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Understanding the dangers posed by exposure to heavy metals - II

In our last post, we began discussing how industrial workers are at an elevated risk of contracting a host of dangerous -- and even deadly -- occupational diseases. By way of example, we focused on the medical conditions that can develop through regular exposure to heavy metals like cadmium, mercury and lead.

In today's post, we'll continue this discussion, exploring why exactly these three heavy metals are so dangerous and what workers can do to protect themselves.

How are workers exposed to cadmium?

Thanks to its high toxicity and carcinogenic nature, cadmium use in industrial settings has declined considerably in recent years. Nevertheless, it can still be found in everything from rechargeable batteries and various electronic products to certain dye pigments and soldering preparations. It’s also a fixture in ore processing and smelting operations.

How are workers exposed to mercury?

While many of us associate mercury with old-time thermometers, it can actually be found in things like dental amalgam fillings, fluorescent light bulbs and electronic products. It's also used in mining operations, and refineries working with silver and gold.

How are workers exposed to lead?

It's natural to associate the danger posed by lead exposure with the general public, thanks to everything from lead-based paint found in older homes to tainted drinking water.

As it turns out, however, lead ranks among the most prevalent occupational overexposures, with those working at battery manufacturing plants, firing ranges and smelter operations, among others, at increased risk.

What can workers at an elevated risk of heavy metal exposure do to keep themselves safe?

First and foremost, experts urge workers handling materials containing heavy metals or otherwise exposed to heavy metals to always wear personal protective equipment, including gear that is washed regularly and not worn outside of the workplace, gloves and respirators.

Furthermore, given the elevated risk of accidental ingestion owing to everything from eating and drinking to sneezing or touching of the face, experts advise industrial workers working with heavy metals to practice proper hand hygiene. This means regular and vigorous washing of the hands.  

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your rights and options concerning workers' compensation benefits if you are suffering from a serious illness attributable to exposure to toxic substances in the workplace.

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