Printech Archive, December, 1998: Re: Linotype lead fonts, health

Re: Linotype lead fonts, health
Fri, 8 Jan 1999 16:28:05 EST

Lead and certain lead compounds can be very toxic to humans resulting in
several detrimental health effects. Exposure to lead occurs through skin
absorption, ingestion or more commonly, inhalation. Inhalation represents the
most rapid onset on toxic effects because it is rapidly absorbed and the
amount required for these effects is smaller. Lead accumulates in the blood,
bone, and other soft tissues especially the kidneys, liver, nervous system
because it is not readily excreted. Excessive exposure to lead can cause
anemia, kidney disease, reproductive disorders, birth defects, and
neurological impairments such as seizures, mental retardation, and/or
behavioral disorders. Even at low doses, lead exposure is associated with
changes in fundamental metabolism. Fetuses and children are especially
susceptible to low doses of lead, often suffering central nervous system
damage or slowed growth. Lead may be a factor in high blood pressure, heart
disease, and osteoporosis in women. High lead accumulation levels in the body
can be fatal.

Lead has its own separate OSHA standard that covers metallic lead, inorganic
lead compounds, and organic lead soaps. Employee exposure to lead is set at 50
micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over an 8-hour time weighted
average. The action level is set at 30 micrograms per cubic meter of air
averaged over an 8-hour time weighted average. Exceeding the action level
triggers exposure monitoring requirements, medical surveillance, and employee
training and education. The standard has other provisions covering workplace
exposure control practices.

In the printing industry, there are several possible worker exposure
scenarios. Lead exposure can occur during welding and cutting operations, lead
paint removal, and melting lead by linotype operators. There is no data
available on exposure levels for workers at printing facilities engaged in
welding/cutting or paint removal. For linotype operations, the forms of lead
involved are lead alloys and lead oxide, which is formed during the melting of
the lead. In several studies conducted at approximately 10 printing operations
where linotypes were being used, lead exposure was well below the standard.
Employees were exposed to levels ranging from 1-5 micrograms/cubic meter.
Sawing operations resulted in the greatest lead exposure ranging from 17-33
micrograms/cubic meter. In some linotype evaluations, there was no exposure to
lead measured. It is important to note that these measured exposure levels
should be considered site-specific and representative of the conditions
existing at the time of the measurement. It is imperative that worker exposure
levels be determined at your facility.

Gary Jones



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