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Adult Blood Lead Levels

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Public health importance of elevated lead levels in adults

In the United States in 2007, over 9,800 adults were reported by 38 states to have elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) greater than or equal to 25 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). 95% of these adults with an identified exposure source to lead were exposed at work (1). The average BLL for the general population in the U.S. is <2 µg/dL) (2,3).

Adults exposed to lead can experience anemia, nervous system damage, kidney problems, hypertension, decreased fertility, and increased level of miscarriages. Often, workers with elevated BLLs do not appear sick; however, recent evidence suggests that lead exposure at levels previously believed to be of little concern can result in adverse chronic health effects if the exposure is maintained for many years (3).

Workers can bring lead home from their workplace and expose their families. Children exposed to low levels of lead may exhibit symptoms of neurologic damage, including learning disabilities and short attention spans. In addition, lead can cross the placenta and interfere with normal development of the fetal brain.

Purpose of the Oregon Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (ABLES) Program

Oregon ABLES has been part of the national ABLES program through the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) since 1991. At that time, Oregon Administrative Rules (OARs) 333-017 and 333-018 were revised to make lead levels a reportable condition to the Public Health Division. The objectives of our program are to:

  • Identify adults with elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) and determine the source of their exposure.
  • Assure they receive appropriate medical management.
  • Assist the individuals, their employers and their medical providers to reduce or eliminate the exposure.
  • Identify other family members who may be affected.
  • Develop intervention strategies and educational information to prevent future lead exposures.

Case definition
A case of occupational lead poisoning is defined as an adult (16 years of age or older) with a BLL greater than or equal to 10 µg/dL. However, at this time we only provide case management for adults with a BLL greater than or equal to 25 µg/dL. All workers employed in Oregon that undergo blood lead testing are eligible for inclusion  in our database, except self-employed individuals and those who fall under Federal OSHA's jurisdiction (for example, longshoremen, Federal workers, and contractors at Federal facilities). We report all cases above 10 µg/dL to NIOSH. We provide a list of employers who had one or more employees with a BLL greater than or equal to 25 µg/dL quarterly to Oregon OSHA.

Links to other Information


1. Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance - United States, 2005 - 2007. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: April 17, 2009 / 58(14);365-369.

2. CDC. Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. NCEH Pub No. 05-05-7, Lead CAS No. 7439-92-1. Atlanta: CDC. Available at

3. Association of Environmental and Occupational Clinics (AOEC). Medical Management Guidelines for Lead-exposed adults. Revised 4/24/2007.