Recent investigations have demonstrated that washing with soap and water is not an effective method for removing lead from skin. Sato and Yano (2006) demonstrated, using sodium sulfide to detect contamination by a change in skin color, that skin-color changes were more likely in lead-battery recycling employees who did not wash their hands or bathe beforehand or who had higher BLLs. Esswein et al. (2011) also developed a colorimetric method capable of detecting lead on skin and workplace surfaces. They demonstrated that hand decontamination, rather than washing, is required to ensure complete removal of lead. They found that a mixture of isostearoamidopropyl morpholine lactate and citric acid applied with a textured absorbent material was almost 100% effective in removing lead from skin. They suggest that the best method for preventing hand-to-mouth exposure may be skin decontamination and a colorimetric method to detect remaining contamination.
If DOD’s occupational exposure limit for lead is lowered, surface and skin decontamination are likely to play an even more important role in effective control of employee exposures than in the past. It will be important for an updated guideline to address the importance of decontamination in more detail and with greater precision. Where possible, quantitative levels of contamination should be included in guidelines rather than qualitative statements regarding the importance of housekeeping.
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ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists). 2001b. Lead and Inorganic Compounds. Documentation of TLV® Chemical Substances, 7th Ed. American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, Cincinnati, OH.
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