Study finds that construction workers are at a higher risk of toxic metal contamination

toxic metal

A recent study led by Boston University School of Public Health has found that construction workers are at a higher risk of exposing their families to toxic metals in their homes due to various work and home related factors

These factors include not having a work locker or a place to launder their work clothes, which affects the level of toxic metal concentrations that workers track from their worksites into their home.

Measures have been known to be put in place to prevent take-home exposure to lead, but much less is known about the risks of exposure to other harmful metals.

The new study identifies and measures the highest number of metals (a total of 30) in construction workers’ homes, to date. The findings from the study reveal that in addition to lead, construction workers had higher levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, manganese, nickel, and tin dust in their homes, compared to workers in janitorial and auto repair occupations.

Findings from the study make it apparent that there is a severe need for more proactive and preventative measures to reduce harmful exposure to metals at construction sites.

Construction workers have a ‘more difficult job’ of preventing metal exposure

Dr. Diana Ceballos, assistant professor of environmental health, director of the Exposure Biology Research Laboratory and author of the study, commented: “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.

“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.”

In order to understand more about the sources and predictors of metal exposure, Caballos and other colleagues from the BUSPH and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recruited 27 Greater Boston workers to participate in this pilot study from 2018-2019, focusing primarily on construction workers, but also including janitorial and auto repair workers.

Researchers visited the homes and collected dust vacuum samples and issued questionnaires to the workers about work and home-related practices that could affect exposure, and made other home observations.

The findings were that higher concentrations of cadmium, chromium, copper, manganese, and nickel were associated with a range of sociodemographic and work- and home-related factors, including lower education, working in construction, not having a work locker to store clothes, mixing work and personal items, not having a place to launder clothes, not washing hands after work, and not changing clothes after work.

“Given the complexity of these issues, we need interventions on all fronts—not only policies, but also resources and education for these families.”

It was also concluded that socio-economic factors, such as living in disadvantaged communities or substandard housing also exacerbates the issue, as these homes may already contain toxic metals.


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