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Keywords:

  • worker notification;
  • high-risk notification;
  • precious metals refining;
  • fire assaying;
  • litharge;
  • red lead

Abstract

Lead poisoning in a precious metals refinery fire assayer and a routine OSHA inspection prompted an investigation of the index facility, a survey of the industry, and efforts to notify assayers of this previously unrecognized hazard. Air and blood samples were obtained at the index facility. Management personnel from all fire assay laboratories in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts were interviewed. The industry's trade association, OSHA, NIOSH, trade unions, and the media were asked to assist in a nationwide notification effort. Assayers at the index facility had excessive exposures to lead due to an age-old, lead-based assaying method that remains the industry gold standard. Blood lead levels of the three assayers (mean 61.3 μ/dl, range 48–86 μg/dl) were considerably higher than those of 16 other refinery workers (mean 27.4 μg/dl, range 13–49 μg/dl). The industry survey revealed inadequate knowledge of both the lead hazard and the applicability of the OSHA lead standard. Notification efforts failed in large part due to economic obstacles. The notification of workers at high risk of lead exposure and the eradication of occupational lead poisoning will require greater attention to economic forces. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.