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Foote, Mielke, Chavez & O'Neil, LLC
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Lead poisoning in the workplace

While Illinois employers are required to protect their employees from dangerous exposure to lead, many workers still come in contact with it in the course of their employment. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, more than 1,600,000 workers in the United States are exposed to lead, with more than half of those being workers in the construction industry. While the use of paints and other materials that contain lead has been outlawed, construction workers may be exposed to lead through demolition and repair of buildings erected prior to the ban. Other industries with potential for lead exposure include manufacturing, environmental remediation and transportation.

Humans are exposed to lead in three ways: through breathing it in, absorbing it through the skin and ingesting it. Workers who are exposed to lead may suffer from a variety of symptoms and illnesses. In the case of extreme exposure, elevated levels of lead can be fatal. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, some of the most common ailments associated with lead poisoning are:

  • Anemia
  • Abdominal pain and constipation
  • Brain damage
  • Irritability and memory loss
  • Neurological problems such as tingling sensations
  • Kidney damage

Those suffering from lead poisoning may also experience headaches, decreased appetite and fatigue.

In addition to having direct contact with lead in their workplace, workers may inadvertently expose their families as well by coming home with lead dust on their shoes and clothes. Lead exposure is especially harmful to pregnant women as lead can pass through the placenta to the unborn child and cause nervous system damage. It can also lead to issues with infertility in both men and women.

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