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Lead Poisoning and Safety

See also the safety habits in this book

(This section was added by me [Mark Posey]. It is a summery of information gathered from various sources on the web. I am not an expert. Seek information written by lead safety experts before attempting the work in this book.) 

LEAD POISONING is commonly caused by breathing in lead dust or lead fumes. It is also commonly caused by ingesting lead dust by swallowing contaminated food or by touching one's mouth with lead contaminated fingers, typically by smoking with lead contaminated fingers.

A developing unborn child is at particular risk from exposure to lead, especially in the early weeks before a pregnancy becomes known. Children are also especially susceptible to lead poisoning not only because they tend to absorb toxins more easily than adults, but also children tend to put things in their mouths. Children may appear healthy despite high levels of lead in their bodies. So it is especially important that the lead worker avoid carrying contamination home to his family. The symptoms of chronic lead poisoning can take a long time to show up and include:

Learning disabilities
Nerve disorders
Memory loss
Mental retardation
Slowed growth
Hearing loss
High blood pressure
Digestive problems
Stomach pain
Joint pain
Cell wall damage
Loss of weight

Acute lead poisoning shows up more quickly and can be fatal, with these possible symptoms:

Severe abdominal pain
Nausea and vomiting
Kidney Damage
Weakness of the limbs

Methods to avoid lead poisoning include:

  • Ventilation systems used where lead dust or fumes are present.
  • Cleanliness of workers and workspace to keep surfaces as free of lead dust as possible. DO NOT use a dry broom or compressed air for cleaning!! This raises dust into the air. Use wet mop or vacuum.
  • Use respirators approved for protection against lead and other toxic dusts.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke in the work area to avoid swallowing lead particles.
  • Work clothes should be coveralls, a washable or disposable cap, and work boots. When leaving work area, leave work clothes in work area. Storage of work clothes must be in different place than change clothes. Even shower when changing. This is especially important before returning home to young children or pregnant women in early pregnancy. Work clothes sent to the laundry must be placed in a plastic bag and washed separately from other clothes.
  • Wearing Heavy Plastic Gloves can both remind you that you are working with a toxic substance and discourage you from touching your face or mouth with contaminated hands.
  • Before eating, wash hands, face and scrub nails with warm, soapy water. Even rinse out your mouth and blow/clean your nose. Washing and eating areas must be separate from work area. Keep your nails short and shave off beard or mustache if you work with lead often.
  • Smoking is prohibited when working with lead or lead products because that act will carry lead particles from contaminated fingers to the mouth.
  • Control fumes while melting dross - When dross ("waste product or impurities formed on the surface of molten metal") is melted, make sure that the melting pot has a thermostat that keeps the temperature around 327°C, the melting point of lead. The temperature must be kept below 500°C or it will produce lead fumes.
  • Medical monitoring through medical examinations are used to detect poisoning so that corrective measures will be used.
  • Lead particles dissolve in alcohol which can easily cause acute lead poisoning, so extreme care should be taken to prevent lead particles from contaminating any alcoholic beverage.

This brief information is not meant to replace information on lead safety written by qualified experts. Seek additional information lead safety before attempting to work with lead.







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