Lead-contaminated clothing should be removed immediately and placed in plastic containers. This clothing should always be cleaned by a professional cleaning service that has been trained to handle toxins. You must notify the professionals that this clothing has been contaminated with lead.
At most jobs, when a person spills something on their clothing, they simply throw them in the wash when they get home.
If your clothes have been subject to lead contamination, there are strict procedures you must follow to protect you and those you may come into contact with.
Despite the fact that lead has been banned in building and paint, those who work in renovations or in other jobs where lead is used could still become exposed.
If you are exposed to lead it is important to know exactly what to do.
How To Identify Lead-Contaminated Clothing
Lead-contaminated clothing can be easily identified by signs of discoloration and peeling. The clothing may also have a metallic smell.
If any of these signs appear, don’t wait another minute and remove the clothing immediately.
If you are unsure whether or not your clothing has been contaminated with lead, it is best to err on the side of caution and have it cleaned by a professional.
Let’s take a look at the steps you need to take from the moment you figure your clothes are contaminated with lead.
1. Do Not Remove the Clothing From the Job Site
The first and most important thing to note if you have been exposed to lead on the job site is that your contaminated clothing must stay there. You cannot take lead-contaminated materials home with you.
There are several reasons why:
- This is to keep you, your loved ones, and others safe from further contamination.
- Taking lead-contaminated clothing home with you would not only pose a risk to those in your home, but also poses a risk of environmental harm.
- Residential drains, septic systems, and sewage or wastewater treatment plants are not designed to handle pollutants such as lead.
- Washing your lead-contaminated clothing at home could also damage your washing machine.
- Most workplaces do not permit you to take your contaminated clothes home anyways.
What You Should Do
- Any lead-contaminated clothing should be removed immediately and placed in plastic bags to be transferred to the appropriate laundry.
- The person who has been exposed should use wipes, developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) researchers, to remove lead from skin.
- Afterwards, they should use a lead removal product during a shower to ensure that all lead has been removed from the hair, etc.
2. Use a Professional Cleaning Service
Clothing that has been exposed to lead at the workplace, or anywhere, should be washed by professionals who have been trained to handle contaminated clothing and lead exposure.
Many companies have their own procedures in place for handling contamination.
- Some workplaces have industrial machine washers on site and employees who are experienced in taking care of such issues.
- Some companies even require employee clothing to be washed on site after every shift.
- Other companies already have a professional cleaning company to send the clothing to.
- These third-party companies will specialize in handling contaminated clothing and will be trained in ensuring that there is minimal risk to others or to the environment.
- These cleaning services have industrial washing machines and drainage systems that were designed to dispose of contaminated water safely.
- Lead-contaminated clothing is always washed together, and never with other types of laundry that has not been exposed.
3. You Are Required to Inform The Cleaning Service
If your company chooses to use a third-party professional cleaning service, you are required to inform them, in writing, about the hazards of the clothing.
- Containers of contaminated clothing that are meant for laundering should be clearly labeled as, “CAUTION: Clothing contaminated with lead.”
- Any laundry workers or employees who will be handling the contaminated clothing should be made aware of the potentially harmful effects of lead.
- Such laundry workers are covered under the General Industry standard of OSHA and should be trained accordingly.
Lead Isn’t Only In Your Clothing!
If you have been exposed to lead at the workplace, it is not only in your clothing, but in your hair, inside your nostrils, and probably even in your lungs.
Lead fumes can be produced when lead paint is being removed by sanding, when lead pipes are being cut, when lead is removed with a heat gun, etc.
There is no odor when you are exposed to lead, so you may not even be aware of it.
There are other concerns as well.
- You might also be unknowingly ingesting lead on the job site. The dust from lead can settle onto your food, into an uncovered water bottle, on your cigarettes, etc.
- In some cases, you may notice a metallic taste, but not usually. This means that you may not even be aware that you have been exposed.
- Lead can also be absorbed through the skin. Having lead dust on your hands, or touching lead and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes can cause further exposure.
It is easy to see how you could have high levels of lead in your blood and not even know that you’d experienced an exposure.
Other Steps to Take for Safety From Lead Exposure
As mentioned, most construction crews, battery manufacturers, lead removal experts, and other companies will already have procedures in place for protecting employees from lead and for handling an exposure.
It is important to follow those procedures specifically.
- Protective Gear (PPE) – Protective clothing should be a part of that procedure. Employers should provide protective clothing, goggles, gloves, and head coverings to those who will be working in an area where lead exposure is a risk.
- Ventilate the Area – Make sure that the area where you are working is well-ventilated. Some workplaces even provide respirators for those who will be exposed to lead dust.
- Pregnant or Nursing – Anyone who is pregnant or considering having a baby should discuss the risks of their job if they might come in contact with lead at the workplace.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Lead Standard, “the physician may recommend special protective measures or medical removal for an employee who is pregnant or who is planning to conceive a child when, in the physician’s judgment, continued exposure to lead at the current job would pose a significant risk.”
Mothers who are breastfeeding should also talk to their doctors. You may want to undergo regular blood lead level (BLL) testing throughout the time that you are nursing to make sure that your milk is safe for your baby.
- Talk to Your Employer – Even if you are not pregnant or nursing a baby, you may still have concerns about being exposed to lead, and your employer should be willing to help you deal with those concerns. You can request that your employer do routine BLL testing. You could also speak with them about any PPE gear that you feel you and your fellow employees need.
- If Further Action is Needed – If you do not feel that your employer is taking your concerns seriously, you can contact a health and safety representative or your union rep for your workplace. For those who are concerned about being exposed to lead or any other contaminant at the workplace, you can also contact the NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation Program. You can ask to have your workplace evaluated for free through their website.
It’s More Prevalent Than You’d Think
The risk of exposure to lead is greater than many people may realize. Common jobs that have a risk of lead exposure includes:
- Building renovations
- Ceramic work
- Radiator Repair
- Scrap Metal Recycling
- Bridge Work
- Metal Production
- Work at Gun Ranges
- Battery Manufacturers
FAQs On Cleaning Lead Contaminated Clothing
Where Do You Commonly Find Lead?
The main use for lead in the United States today is for automotive lead-acid batteries – a type of rechargeable battery that uses an alloy that is almost pure lead. You’ll also find them in fishing weights.
Can You Clean Lead Contaminated Clothes In The Washer?
You need to place your contaminated clothes in water soluble bags and use a detergent that’s made for lead contaminated clothes. Once the washing is done, you must test your clothes, washer and dryer for lead dust using a test kit.
Can You Use Bleach To Clean Lead Contaminated Clothing?
No, this will only make the situation worse. You must follow the washing procedures using soluble bags, the correct detergent and testing kits after or simply use a professional cleaning service.