Construction Workers Are Bringing Home Dangerous Toxic Metals, Study Suggests

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A study from the Boston University School of Medicine indicates that construction workers tend to bring home toxic metals; this impacts their families, especially young children. In addition, the study identified up to 30 toxic metal residues on clothing and skin.

Manufacturing and industrial industries fight against toxic take-home exposures. Authorities recognize this problem as a public health hazard. But new findings indicate historically high contamination levels.

The Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) published a study in the journal Environmental Research, finding that lead and arsenic, chromium, copper, manganese, nickel, and tin dust travel with construction workers to their homes.

"Given the lack of policies and trainings in place to stop this contamination in high-exposure workplaces such as construction sites, it is inevitable that these toxic metals will migrate to the homes, families, and communities of exposed workers," says study lead and corresponding author Dr. Diana Ceballos, an assistant professor of environmental health and director of the Exposure Biology Research Laboratory at BUSPH. "Many professions are exposed to toxic metals at work, but construction workers have a more difficult job implementing safe practices when leaving the worksite because of the type of transient outdoor environments where they work, and the lack of training on these topics."

BUSPH conducted their study in Boston among construction employees who agreed to a period of routine clothing and home inspections. Technicians vacuumed and filtered homes. Construction workers answered questionnaires about daily activities.

The study didn't indicate how workers can avoid toxic metals in the workplace; it emphasized the need for workplace lockers, handwashing, and showering, so workers don't transport toxins home on their clothing, skin, and personal items.

Ceballos offers a multipronged approach. "Given the complexity of these issues, we need interventions on all fronts -- not only policies, but also resources and education for these families," she says.

With increased vigilance and workplace equipment and precautions, some hope to reduce the number of toxic metals that make their way from the worksite to construction employees' homes.

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