Construction workers may bring toxic contaminants home with them from the workplace, a new study published in the journal Environmental Research finds. Although existing research already highlights the public health hazard posed by lead, the study finds “take-home exposure” of other harmful metals is also an issue. Ultimately, the findings demonstrate a pressing need for new health and safety measures designed to limit take-home exposure in the industry.
High levels of toxic metals
To conduct the study, researchers looked at dust samples taken from the homes of 27 construction workers (as well as janitorial, and car repair workers) in the greater Boston area. Construction workers were found to have the biggest concentrations of tin, arsenic, lead, nickel, copper, chromium, and manganese dust in their homes. Not changing clothes or washing hands after work and mixing work and personal items was found to be associated with higher metal concentrations. Moreover, lower education levels, as well as issues like workers not having any way of cleaning clothes or not even having a work locker to store clothes were also found to increase take-home exposure. “Many professions are exposed to toxic metals at work, but construction workers have a more difficult job implementing safe practices when leaving the worksite because of the type of transient outdoor environments where they work, and the lack of training on these topics,” said study lead author Diana Ceballos of the Boston University School of Public Health.
A dangerous industry
The construction industry is already known as one of the most dangerous for workers with inadequate training, site health and safety violations, poorly maintained equipment, and equipment malfunction being some of the most common reasons for injury and fatality. By working with an experienced construction industry attorney, construction workers can file a lawsuit and win compensation to cover costs of medical bills and lost wages after sustaining an injury while on the job. Fortunately, however, rates of injury and illness in the construction industry have been gradually decreasing in recent years. In 2020, the injury-illness rate per 100 full-time workers decreased to 2.5 — down from 2.8 in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total of 174,000 non-fatal injuries and illnesses were recorded in total in the industry 2020, the lowest number since 2014.
Ultimately, the researchers hope the study’s findings will be used to motivate real-world action designed to limit take-home exposure in the construction industry. “Given the lack of policies and training in place to stop this contamination in high-exposure workplaces such as construction sites, it is inevitable that these toxic metals will migrate to the homes, families and communities of exposed workers,” Ceballos said. And, since many construction workers also live in disadvantaged communities or inadequate housing already potentially containing toxic metals, the problem is only exacerbated. “Given the complexity of these issues, we need interventions on all fronts — not only policies, but also resources and education for these families,” she said.