Chemical hazards that affect occupational health
ExposureExposure to inorganic lead can occur in metal foundries and smelters, in battery factories, when removing lead paint, when welding and cutting metal parts coated with lead paint, when producing items made of enamel, brass, tin and bronze, recycling of lead-containing waste, in manufacturing of glass, ceramics and certain types of plastics and when producing ammunition. Uptake of inorganic lead in the body is mainly through inhalation and ingestion. Examples of organic lead compounds are tetraethyl lead and tetramethyl lead, which are used to make leaded gasoline. Organic lead compounds are absorbed as a vapour by inhalation and are also readily absorbed through the skin.Metallic lead and lead compounds, both inorganic and organic, are toxic, and some of them are carcinogenic. Metal oxide formed on the surface of metallic lead is powder-like, and when touched by the workers can be easily transferred to the fingers, and might thereby be ingested when eating or smoking. Thus, personal hygiene, and especially hand washing, is very important when handling lead.Reductions and prohibitions in the use of lead in petrol, paint, plumbing and solder in many countries have resulted in substantial reductions in blood lead levels. However, significant sources of exposure still remain, particularly in developing countries.The Occupational Exposure Limits for lead in the workplace atmosphere is low. For instance, the TLV set by the ACGIH is 0.05 mg/m3.The Biological Exposure Index (BEI) of ACGIH for lead in blood is 30 μg/100 ml. Due to the long half-life of lead in blood, the sampling timing is not critical. ACGIH has a note concerning women with child bearing potential stating that when the lead blood of the woman exceeds 10 μg/100 ml, there is a risk of delivering a child with blood lead over the current US Centers for Disease Control guidance of 10 μg/100 ml. The binding biological limit value of the European Union is 70 μg Pb/100 ml blood Bags with a powder mix which contains lead.
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Occupational Health in Developing Countries
- Acute lead intoxication could arise through the inhalation of high concentrations, which can occur when welding/cutting metal coated with lead-paint or other lead-containing material. Symptoms of intoxications can be stomach pain (lead colic), tiredness, headache, irritability and other symptoms from the nervous system. Acute lead intoxication can also occur after oral intake.
- Chronic lead exposure may affect the blood, the peripheral and central nervous system and the kidneys. Lead binds to the cell membrane of the red blood cells and to the hemoglobin, and causes several effects on the blood, including anemia.
- Damage to the peripheral nervous system includes palsy of a specific nerve in the arm (n.radialis).
- A fetus may acquire brain damage at blood lead levels that are harmless for the mother. Lead passes the placents and enters the blood of the fetus. Lead is also excreted in breastmilk.
- Lead can produce genetic effects and reduce fertility in both men and women, as well as causing abortion, prematurity, stillbirth or low birth weight.
- The International Agency for Research of Cancer has classified inorganic lead compounds as probably carcinogenic to humans.
- Acute exposure to inorganic mercury by the oral route may result in effects such as nausea, vomiting, and severe abdominal pain. People with very high levels of mercury after acute exposure can be treated with drugs called “chelators”. These medicines bind to the metals in the blood stream and this metal-chelator compound is then eliminated in the urine.
- Exposure to mercury can damage the central nervous system and the kidneys. These effects can arise after chronic exposure, even at relatively low concentrations as mercury accumulates in the body. Mercury can also cause contact allergy.
- Some of the most common early symptoms of chronic mercury intoxication are unspecific (tiredness, loss of appetite, irritability) and psychological disturbances (anxiety, restlessness, depression). Secondary symptoms include reduced memory, sleeplessness and personality changes. Also other unspecific symptoms might be present.
- Most patients develop the symptoms over many years, and the condition could develop into tremors, reduced fields of vision and sensory disturbances.
Organic mercury – Minemata disasterA rehabilitation centre for patients poisoned at Minemata. Several of the patients cannot walk, but are dependent on a wheel chair. © Akwilina V. KayumbaAn example of organic mercury exposure affecting public health occurred in Minamata, Japan, between 1932 and 1968, where a factory producing acetic acid discharged waste liquid into Minamata Bay. The discharge included high concentrations of methylmercury. The bay was rich in fish and shellfish, and provided the main livelihood for local residents and fishermen. At least 50 000 people were affected to some extent and more than 2000 cases of Minamata disease were certified. The most severe cases suffered brain damage, paralysis, incoherent speech and delirium.Acute exposure to very high levels of methyl mercury results in CNS effects such as blindness, deafness, and impaired levels of consciousness.
ExposureWorkers may be exposed to cadmium in the zinc, copper and steel industries, in the manufacture of nickel-cadmium batteries, solar cells, and jewelry, in metal plating, welding of cadmium-containing metals, production of plastics and many other industrial activities. The Occupational Exposure Limits for cadmium in the workplace atmosphere is low. The TLV set by the ACGIH for the cadmium is 0.01 mg/m3.
Health effectsThe main route of cadmium exposure in the occupational setting is via the respiratory tract. Cadmium is toxic when inhaled, and is classified as carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency on Cancer (IARC). Cadmium accumulates in the kidney cortex, and may cause progressive renal disease. A characteristic low molecular weight protein marker is found as a result of kidney damage by cadmium. Cadmium exposure may also have effects on calcium-metabolism and thereby reduce the bone-density resulting in an increased risk of fractures.The Biological Exposure Index (BEI) of ACGIH for cadmium in urine is 5μg/g creatinine. Due to the long half-life of cadmium, the urine sampling timing is not critical. Cigarette smoking is a significant source of cadmium, and needs to be taken into account when interpreting the results .
Occupational Health in Developing Countries
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