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QUESTION: Dangers of conducting "Lead wipes" to seal the lead sheaths at jointing/terminating positions of electrical cables - 04 Sep 2007 Queensland, Australia

Please advise what dangers, if any exist either long or short term whilst conducting "Lead wipes" to seal the lead sheaths at jointing and terminating positions of electrical cables

ANSWER: 05 Sep 2007

Dear Christopher,

According to "Environmental, Health and Safety Issues in the Coated Wire and Cable Industry" by THE MASSACHUSETTS TOXICS USE REDUCTION INSTITUTE, University of Massachusetts, [online at ] lead and lead compounds in wire and cable materials have "High" health and safety impacts and are "persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic" {page 31 of 60}. The report also lists non-leaded replacement products in case you are interested.

I belong to an egroup called the Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (ABLES) egroup, run by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), where the issue of lead poisoning from replacing lead sheathed cables with fibreoptic cabling was discussed in 6 emails recently (please see below) and the discussion pointed to an article by Michael B. Lax, James P. Keogh, Nancy Jeffery, Paul K. Henneberger, Susan Klitzman, David G. Simon, John Joyce (1996). "Lead poisoning in telephone cable strippers: A new setting for an old problem. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 30 (3): 351-354., that you may want to purchase  where you can read the ABSTRACT for free. You can purchase 24-hour online access to this article for US$ 25.00. Sorry we can't afford to buy the full paper ourselves for emailing to you. If you do buy it, we'd really appreciate an electronic copy for our library. As for whether conducting "lead wipes" can expose a worker to lead, the only sure-fire way to know is to carry out biological monitoring ie blood lead testing, which can be done by any doctor.

Because even small amounts of lead are now known to increase the risk of early death and cause other health impacts such as memory loss, impaired hearing, balance problems, infertility, impotence etc, it is vital that any blood lead result these days be compared to the new target: that is, to have a blood lead level less than 2 micrograms per decilitre (2 g/dL ), rather than to simply comply with the ridiculously high 50 g/dL (the regulated level which usually brings about removal from the job in Australia). To bring you (and your safety officer or doctor - please forward the emails) up to date on health impacts and allow appropriate action to be taken once blood lead level testing has been carried out, I will email you both our Info Pack on the dangers of a blood lead level above 2 g/dL and our Lead Workers Info Pack.

If anyone doing this lead wipes work returns an elevated blood lead level, please re-contact our service and I will email an invitation for them to join our LeadWorkers egroup so that they can be supported in their road to recovery by other lead poisoned workers who are members of this egroup. All the best and I look forward to hearing from you if needs be.

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth OBrien

ABLES egroup EMAIL ONE: Sent: Tuesday, July 03, 2007 8:30 AM Subject: Lead exposure from pulling underground cable

Here in Washington State, we have just been made aware of a cluster of elevated BLLs for workers involved in removing and recycling 50 year-old buried cable. This cable is either being cut (mechanically) in the field or spooled and then cut back at a warehouse. The cable sheathing contains lead.

With the ongoing replacement of copper wire with fiber optic cable, this activity may be an emerging source of lead exposure for workers. Have any of the ABLES states dealt with this issue? Do you agree that we should be proactive with telecommunication companies and others to address these exposures, from pulling underground cable

In 1995, in NYC, we had cases of lead poisoned workers from the same type of exposure that Steve is describing. Dr. Lax and others of us described this type of lead exposure in this article. It's unfortunate that this is still occurring.

Michael B. Lax, James P. Keogh, Nancy Jeffery, Paul K. Henneberger, Susan Klitzman, David G. Simon, John Joyce (1996). "Lead poisoning in telephone cable strippers: A new setting for an old problem. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 30 (3): 351-354.

ABLES egroup EMAIL THREE: Sent: Wednesday, July 04, 2007 4:02 AM Subject: Re: Lead exposure from pulling underground cable

We had a case of lead poisoning because of cable splicing in Maryland in early 90s. I don't remember whether the worker was working for the local telephone company or was a contractor who bought old cables, spliced them and resold them.

ABLES egroup EMAIL FOUR: Sent: Wednesday, July 04, 2007 4:56 AM Subject: Re: Lead exposure from pulling underground cable

We have seen lead used in this fashion for many current cable and joint applications. In fact, we have a manufacturer here in NJ that still uses about 5 million pounds of lead per year for the sheathing on high voltage cables. I have been told that currently most high voltage power cables have lead sheathing. The joints also often contain lead or lead compounds, so when they splice them they often get exposures. I am not sure who or if lead alternatives are in wide use.

ABLES egroup EMAIL FIVE: Sent: Friday, July 06, 2007 9:38 AM Subject: Lead exposure from pulling underground cable - Responses

Many thanks to those of you who provided information. Several states have recorded lead exposures associated with this type of operation. The lead-exposed workers in Washington State only had their BLLs tested 8 months after starting work - and that was only because a Minnesota operation had discovered elevated BLLs in their workers.

After talking with the state OSHA inspector, it appears that cutting the lead-sheathed cable resulted in the highest lead exposures. Workers are cutting the cable in a warehouse using a proprietary pneumatic cutting system that grinds the outer lead-containing sheathing as it is drawn through the machine. The inspector informed me that she measured airborne lead levels that exceeded the lead PEL by 7-8 times. There was also considerable surface contamination. However, other cable cutting devices are available, and the inspector will be measuring air lead levels while using different cutters next week.

The inspector informed me that the company has recently won contracts to do the same work in Dallas and Los Angeles ....

ABLES egroup EMAIL SIX: Sent: Saturday, July 07, 2007 4:35 AM Subject: Re: Lead exposure from pulling underground cable - Responses

Staff here in California observed this splitting of the lead sheath covering of the cable at a scrap metal yard a number of years ago in Los Angeles after some workers were lead poisoned. We wrote it up in the OLPPP newsletter. This was a big company that was receiving tons of spooled power and communication cable for mostly copper recovery. The company did a single air sample which came in low. However 10 of 18 employees had BLLs of 40 g/dL or higher and two workers had BLLs above 60 g/dL . There was also a child with take-home exposure. We visited the yard to observe their outdoor lead safety program which now included a HEPA filtered vacuum set-up at the splitting operation, all the workers in half-mask HEPA filtered respirators, tyvek, better hygiene, medical surveillance, etc.

We had another situation where workers of a contractor were pulling the cable out of the ground and chopping it into sections. Being out in the field there were a lot of hygiene and take-home issues

As you stated this work has been going on and continues to go on for scrap metal recovery and fiber optic cable replacement.,


Also see: Lead exposure and Lead poisoning in the Bell Telephone System

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