Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (ABLES)

ABLES is a state-based surveillance program of laboratory reported adult blood lead levels. The national ABLES program began in 1987 with four states and has grown to 41 states in 2010. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) ABLES program provides funding and technical assistance to participating states. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services began receiving funds to operate the ABLES program in 2001. The public health objective of the ABLES program is objective OSH-7 in Healthy People 2020, to reduce the proportion of persons who have elevated blood lead concentrations from work exposures. The program objective is to build state capacity to initiate, expand, or improve adult blood lead surveillance programs which can accurately measure trends in adult blood lead levels and which can effectively intervene to prevent lead over-exposures. In 2009, the ABLES program updated the surveillance case definition of an elevated blood lead level as a blood lead concentration greater than or equal to 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL).

Lead is used in many industries, including construction, mining, and manufacturing. In each of these industries, workers are at risk of being exposed to lead, by breathing it in, ingesting it, or coming in contact with it.

Lead is a toxic metal that is also used in burning fossil fuels. It can be combined with other metals to produce alloys. Lead and lead alloys are often used to make batteries, ammunition, and other metal products. Years ago, lead was also used regularly in paint, ceramics, caulk, and pipe solder among other things. Because of its potential health problems, the amount of lead used in these products today has lessened or has been removed.

Over 90 percent of U.S. adults with elevated blood lead levels are exposed occupationally. Adults exposed to lead can experience anemia, nervous system dysfunction, kidney problems, hypertension, decreased fertility, and increased miscarriages. Workers can bring lead home from their workplace, and unknowingly expose their families. It is estimated nationally that two to three percent of children with blood lead levels of greater than or equal to 10 µg /dL were exposed by lead brought home from work. Children exposed to low levels of lead may exhibit symptoms of neurologic damage, including learning disabilities and short attention spans. Children who come in contact with lead-exposed workers should be targeted for blood lead screening.

To find other publications relating to adult blood lead poisoning, click on the NIOSH State-based Occupational Health Surveillance Clearinghouse link, then click on “search” and enter “lead.”