Regulations on the approved level of lead exposure for workers in the U.S. have not been updated since 1978 and permit blood lead concentrations that are four to 12 times higher than the concentrations that have been linked to elevated blood pressure, among other problems. An investigative column in this month’s Scientific American delves into this issue and exposes that many of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards on chemical exposures are in fact outdated.
Removing lead from gasoline, paint, water pipes and food cans is perceived to be one of the US’s most significant public health achievements of the 20th century. Lead is incredibly toxic, with effects on health ranging from the acute, such as heart disease or kidney failure, to the pervasive, such as lower IQ and hearing loss, problems that result from continued exposure to low concentrations. As more research has been undertaken on the dangers of lead, evidence has accumulated that even small amounts of the element can poison adults.
The new insights raise concerns for older generations who accumulated lead in their bones during the leaded-gas-and-paint era and for those who are currently working in industries such as metal smelting, lead-battery manufacturing and building renovation. The column identifies the failure of OSHA to update their regulations in line with the latest research and suggests that other organizations have been left to push awareness and change. The article concludes by stating that the pace of progress to change guidelines and reduce exposure is “too slow for far too many people whose health is on the line or has already been permanently damaged.”