HomeLibraryMaritime InjuriesLead exposure is a danger for shipyard workers

Lead exposure is a danger for shipyard workers

Shipyard workers, including shipfitters and ship repair workers, are often exposed to high levels of lead.  A 2007 study found that blood lead levels in active workers often exceeded 40 micrograms per deciliter.  Levels above 25 micrograms per deciliter are considered elevated.  Shipyard workers who worked near lead, but not directly with lead-painted iron plates also showed increased blood lead levels, possibly from lead in the air.

Lead is a naturally occurring, but highly toxic metal.  Because it is abundant, inexpensive, and easy to work with, lead and lead compounds have been used since ancient times for a variety of purposes including wine storage, paints, ceramics, solder, pipes, gasoline, batteries, glass, fine crystal and even cosmetics.  In ships, lead paint is often used on the metal plates that are welded to form iron hulls.  When that paint is welded, scraped or cut, dust is released in the air.

Despite its usefulness, lead is a potent neurotoxin that when ingested or inhaled can accumulate in soft tissues and in bone.  Over time, lead can have drastic effects on the nervous system.  Lead can enter the body through direct contact with the mouth, nose, and eyes and through breaks in the skin.

There are many symptoms of lead poisoning.  Symptoms range from fatigue, headache and nausea to brain damage, kidney damage and even death.  The health risks are greater for smokers.

Lead exposure may produce no symptoms or symptoms may be vague.  If you are concerned about lead exposure and have any of the following symptoms, a doctor can do a simple test for blood lead level.

Symptoms of lead exposure

  • Stomach pain, cramping, constipation
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained mood or personality changes
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Loss of memory
  • Poor coordination
  • Weakness, especially in hands and feet
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Coma

Lead poisoning can be treated if caught early.  Lead is a dangerous material and there are safety precautions that should be followed when working with lead.  If you are a seaman or harbor worker and have been exposed to lead while working, you are protected by maritime law.  Contact the maritime injury specialists at The Young Firmat 866-666-5129 for a free consultation.

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