The relationship between dermal lead levels and blood lead levels in fire assay workers

Document Type

Journal Article


C C H Australia Ltd.


School of Medical and Health Sciences




Originally published as: North, S., Reed, S., & Burton, H. (2017). The relationship between dermal lead levels and blood lead levels in fire assay workers. Journal of Health, Safety and Environment, 33(1), 41-52. Original article available here.


Workers conducting fire assay work for mineral analysis use lead oxide as a reagent, and can be exposed to significant levels of lead. This study aimed to quantify the contribution of dermal lead exposure to total lead exposure in this industry.

Dermal wipes were used to quantify lead on fire assay workers’ hands during their work shift, and after washing for a break or at the end of shift. The data collected was used to calculate correlation between dermal lead and the workers’ blood lead level range. Workers completed a questionnaire on lead exposure factors and observations were recorded on workplace controls used to manage lead exposure.

Workers’ blood lead levels ranged between 3–30 μg/dL. There was a correlation (r 2 = 0.58) between lead on washed hands and blood lead levels as well as a correlation (r 2 = 0.36) between lead on hands during work and blood lead levels. The questionnaire on lead exposure factors provided qualitative information but when quantified did not correlate with blood lead levels. Workplace controls used include ventilation, personal protective equipment, cleaning equipment, hygiene facilities and safe work procedures.

Lead on the hands may contribute substantially to the total lead exposure for workers in this industry and there is the potential for employers and workers to further control workers’ exposure.