February 20, 2020

Hazard Alert Reports Elevated Blood Lead Levels among Kentucky Workers

A hazard alert issued this month by the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC) raises concerns about blood lead levels among adults in the state. According to KIPRC, Kentucky has averaged BLL rates 40 percent higher than the estimated national prevalence rate since 2010, the year NIOSH began tracking BLL rates greater than or equal to 10 µg/dL, the agency’s previous case definition for an elevated BLL. Nearly 800 individuals age 16 and up had at least one BLL measurement at or above 10 µg/dL from January 2017 to October 2019, the report states.

Workers in the construction, mining, smelting, and manufacturing industries should be concerned about potential occupational exposure to lead, KIPRC says. Exposure to high levels of lead in adults can result in health effects such as reproductive problems, high blood pressure, blood disorders, central nervous system damage, and kidney issues.

Through its Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance program, NIOSH works with state programs such as the Kentucky Department for Public Health to accurately measure trends in work-related adult BLLs. From 2009 to 2015, NIOSH’s case definition for an elevated BLL was a level greater than or equal to 10 µg/dL. In 2015, the agency designated 5 µg/dL of whole blood, in a venous blood sample, as the reference BLL for adults. A BLL of greater than or equal to 5 µg/dL is considered elevated.

The new hazard alert (PDF) was developed in part by KIPRC’s NIOSH-funded Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Surveillance Program, which conducts surveillance of occupational injuries and illnesses in the state. KIPRC is a partnership between the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the University of Kentucky's College of Public Health.

More information about lead in the workplace can be found on OSHA’s website.