Lead Standards Studied for Health Impacts at COEH Symposium

Photo: Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH
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Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH

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Barbara Materna

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Dr. Michael Kosnett

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Kathleen Vork
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A total of over 2,200 viewers have visited the webinar series from COEH’s Continuing Education symposium on workplace lead exposures led by Director Barbara Plog, with assistance from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

The one-day science symposium held in November 2013 in Berkeley, California, distilled the latest information on the occupational health risks of low-level lead exposures. The five-part video series is available to the public online at UC Berkeley Events.

Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, moderated the highly successful event attended by approximately 335 participants from varying time zones in 22 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, and Germany. Guests took part in person or by live webcast. More than 60 registered to watch as groups, multiplying outreach.

The audience represented a cross-section of public health professionals from industry and government, including practitioners of clinical medicine and industrial hygiene.

“We’re excited that we reached so many people with new, breaking information in the field,” said Plog, who timed the symposium to address mounting evidence by Dr. Michael Kosnett, Barbara Materna, and others at the symposium that underscores the toxicity of lead (pdf link) at low doses. Kosnett is an adjunct associate professor of Environmental and Occupational Health in the University of Colorado’s School of Public Health and Materna is chief of the CDPH Occupational Health Branch. Both are graduates of COEH training programs.

The Federal OSHA lead standard in 1978 was ground breaking in its time, said Materna. But now, more than 30 years later, it is widely considered out of date and insufficiently protective. Materna presented the health-based Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for lead recommended by the CDPH based on government agency reviews linking lead exposure to neurological and reproductive health effects.

CDPH recommends “air lead levels in the workplace must not exceed an 8-hour time-weighted average concentration of 0.5 – 2.1 micrograms lead per cubic meter of air,” which significantly lower than OSHA’s current permissible exposure limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter as an 8-hour, time-weighted average.

Kathleen Vork explained the California Environmental Protection Agency’s (Cal/EPA) physiologically-based pharmacokinetic modeling of the air lead and blood lead-level relationship. Vork, a research scientist in Cal/EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, highlighted how the Leggett Model characterizes the way humans absorb, distribute, and eliminate lead over time based on published findings from occupational studies.

Calling the symposium an “historic day,” Dr. Howard closed the event by facilitating a Question and Answer session where scientists and policy makers fielded questions specific to the public health consequences of low-dose lead exposure in the workplace. Questions were taken from both the in-person and on-line audiences.

The entire COEH CE Symposium can be viewed on UC Berkeley’s YouTube Channel.

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