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QUESTION: Who can help with occupational lead poisoning in Colombia? 25/06/10  Greater London, UK - United Kingdom

I would like some information about how to cope with lead contamination. Is there any cure or treatment to alleviate or slow the progress of lead in the blood?

My nephew just found out about he has lead poisoning and I am very worry, he works and lives in Colombia but it seems to me that his company doesn't offer any help. Is there any groups in Colombia that he can get information? What are his rights? Thank you for your help.

Maria.  .

EMAIL TWO Sent: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 10:40 PM

Dear Elizabeth,

Thank you very much for replying to my e-mail and for sending me all the valuable information about lead.

After reading most of the information so far I feel very scare. My nephew is a father of 2 children and  33 years of age. His blood lead level is 45 and they still expect him to work as usual, the sad thing is that like him there are many other workers (mainly young men) that get exposed and contaminated with lead on the daily basis.   

 My understanding is that there is not help to workers with this kind of problem in Colombia. Sadly companies played their own rules. Once a person is contaminated their contract eventually terminates without a valid reason especially if you are not a permanent member of the staff. This company in mention makes batteries for cars.

Once again Thank you for being there.

Maria.

ANSWER: Jun 26 2010

Dear Maria,

I will email you our Info Pack on lead at work (in English) in case it can help your nephew working with lead in Colombia. If you can tell me what kind of work he does, that would help me also to possibly locate some more specific information in Spanish.

I don't know of any community groups dealing with lead poisoning prevention in Colombia but if he goes to the government website: www.minproteccionsocial.gov.co/ Ministerio Colombiano para la Protección Social [ Colombian Ministry for Social Protection ] and looks for Plomo on the site, he may find some useful information. If not, he should use the "contact us" form at http://www.minproteccionsocial.gov.co/VBeContent/contactus.asp to contact the staff and ask whatever it is he needs to know.

Most countries have an occupational action level for lead in blood in their OH&S Regulations, at which the worker must be removed from the work (and given other paid work which does not entail lead exposure). Your nephew should ask the Ministry staff what that level is in Colombia and, unless he really wants the job and he does not fear losing his job, he should report his employer if his blood lead level is above the removal level.

If you email me again with his blood lead level, I can give more specific advice.

The basic principle of controlling occupational exposures to lead follows the

HIERARCHY OF CONTROLS (NSW WorkCover (2008) which are:

  • substitute the lead hazard with another of lower risk
  • isolate the lead hazard from the person put at risk
  • minimise the lead risk by engineering means
  • minimise the lead risk by administrative means (eg ensuring adequate meal breaks so that workers never have an empty stomach. An empty stomach absorbs much more of the lead that gets into the gut, than a full stomach).
  • provide personal protective equipment (PPE) - this is the last line of defence and should NEVER be the only measure taken.

The hierarchy of controls dictates that management make extreme efforts to ensure that no worker is required to work in lead dust or fumes. If workers ARE required to work in areas with lead dust or fumes, the workplace should provide masks, gloves, work clothes, laundering facilities, showers and clean change rooms so that workers can change out of their work clothes, shower (including wash their hair and any facial hair), change into their own clean going-home clothes, and leave the premises without getting further contaminated.

Giving up smoking is an important part of reducing your blood lead, as is ensuring that you have adequate nutrition, especially iron and calcium.

You can find the Spanish translation of our "Fact Sheet - Iron Nutrition and Lead Toxicity

You will find other Spanish documents, including Model Policy on our site at http://www.lead.org.au/spanishindex.html

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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