NIOSH Request for Information on Lead

Sarah Llanes

Inorganic lead is a naturally occurring soft, gray metal that workers in both the construction and general industries can be occupationally exposed to through absorption (especially through damaged skin), ingestion, and inhalation.  Prolonged exposure to lead can cause abdominal pain, constipation, depression, distractedness, forgetfulness, irritability, and nausea.  Occupational exposures to inorganic lead in the construction industry may include the demolition, installation, maintenance, removal, or renovation of lead linings in tanks and radiation protection, lead pipes and fittings, leaded glass, structures painted with lead pigments, work involving lead metal or lead alloys, and work involving soldering.  Occupational exposures to inorganic lead in the general industry may include automobile repair, contact with brass and bronze objects, electronic waste and metal recycling, firing ranges, lead bullets, leaded glass, plumbing, radiators, rechargeable batteries, refining, and smelting.

On August 21, 2018, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) filed a new request for information (RFI) which are due by October 22, 2018.  The information requested includes, but is not limited to:

  • Case reports or other health information demonstrating potential health effects in workers exposed to inorganic lead including exposure data (airborne, blood, and/or surface), including the methods, protocols, and results for the medical surveillance findings.
  • Data pertaining to the feasibility of establishing a more protective recommended exposure limit (REL) for inorganic lead.
  • De-identified data (information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity, i.e., name, date of birth, social security number, etc.) regarding inorganic lead breathing zone airborne exposure measurements with corresponding blood lead level concentrations.
  • Description and identification of industries, occupations, scenarios, and work tasks with a potential for exposure to inorganic lead.
  • Educational materials for worker safety and training on the safe handling of inorganic lead.
  • Information on control measures (g., engineering controls, exposure data before and after implementation of control measures, personal protective equipment, and work practices) that are being used in workplaces with potential exposure to inorganic lead.
  • Trends in the production and use of inorganic lead.

With information gathered from the RFI, NIOSH intends to establish an updated recommended exposure limit (REL) for inorganic lead (which is currently 50 µg/m3 as a time-weighted average concentration for an 8-hour work shift during a 40-hour work week) and develop updated recommendations on medical surveillance, potential health risks, and recommended measures for the safe handling of inorganic lead.  The current Cal/OSHA PEL on lead is 50 µg/m3.  Cal/OSHA has established standards on lead for the construction industry and general industry which can be found in §1532.1 and §5198, respectively.  It is unknown at this time if Cal/OSHA will amend these standards based on NIOSH’s latest research and RFI, but if they do, we’ll keep you apprised.