Workers in many industries inadvertently bring home toxic contaminants, endangering the health of their families. Those at greatest risk are the least likely to benefit from current regulations.
A new review by researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health calls for recognition of "take-home" exposures--exposures to toxic contaminants inadvertently brought home from a family member's work--as a public health hazard. The review was published in Annals of Work Exposures and Health.
Take-home exposures often fall into a regulatory blind spot. Although OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] does regulate some key workplace exposures that can become take-home exposures, such as asbestos, lead, and pesticides, often regulations are not up to date or enforced enough to be protective of health at the family level." Dr. Diana Ceballos, corresponding author, assistant professor of environmental health at BUSPH
Ceballos says cases tied to take-home exposures are all too common. When she was an industrial hygienist at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she worked on several such cases, including one where two young children had been poisoned by lead from their father's work at an electronics recycling facility. Grinding up the lead glass from cathode ray tubes, the father was not exposed to enough lead to immediately affect the health of a grown man, but the lead dust that came home with him on his body and clothing quickly affected the health of his young daughter and son. "The father had only worked at this facility for about a year when his kids' physician found they were poisoned," Ceballos says. "Within just a few years, the kids exhibited textbook health effects of lead, including behavioral, developmental, and learning difficulties."
In their review of research related to take-home exposure, Ceballos and her colleagues make the case that the issue is not simply a matter of worker carelessness, a view that has been expressed with the simplistic--and dehumanizing--expression "soiling one's own nest." Instead, they argue, take-home exposures are part of much larger and more complex systemic issues, where workers and their families face myriad challenges to their health and safety at work and at home. Related Stories
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