Reading Room

Health Effects of Workers' Home Contamination

 Workers can inadvertently carry hazardous materials home from work on their clothes, skin, hair, tools, and in their vehicles. As a result, families of these workers have been exposed to hazardous substances and have developed various health effects. Health effects have also occurred when the home and the workplace are not distinct -- such as on farms or in homes that involve cottage industries. For some contaminants, there are other potential sources of home contamination such as air and water pollution and deteriorating lead paint in the home. Only a few of the studies found in the literature used epidemiologic methods to estimate the relative risks of health effects from the contaminant transported home by the worker iindependent of health risks due to other sources of the contaminant in the home. 
Little is known of the full range of health effects or the extent to which they occur as a result of workers' home contamination. There are information systems to enable tracking of illnesses and health conditions resulting from these circumstances. Many of the health effects among workers' family members described below were recognized because of their uniqueness, their clear relationship to workplace contaminants, or their serious nature. 

Chronic beryllium disease 
This potentially fatal lung disease has occurred in famillies of workers exposed to beryllium in the nuclear and aviation industries and workplaces involved in the production of beryllium and fluorescent lights and gyroscopes. 

Asbestosis and mesothelioma 
Fatal lung diseases have occurred among family members of workers engaged in manufacture of many products containing asbestos, including thermal insulation materials, asbestos cement, automobile mufflers, shingles, textiles, gas masks, floor tiles, boilers, ovens, and brake shoes and other friction products for automobiles. Families have also been exposed to asbestos when workers were engaged in mining, shipbuilding, insulating (e.g., pipe laggers and railway workers), maintenance and repair of boilers and vehicles, and asbestos removal operations. 

Lead poisoning, neurological effects, and mental retardation 
These health effects have occurred in children of workers engaged in mining, smelting, construction, manufacturing (pottery, ceramics, stained glass, ceramic tiles, electrical components, bullets, and lead batteries), repair and reclamation of lead batteries, repair of radiators, recovery of gold and silver, work on firing ranges, and welding, painting, and splicing of cables. 

Deaths and neurological effects from pesticides 
Farm families and families of other workers exposed to pesticides have suffered these serious effects. 
Chemical burns from caustic substances 
Chemical burns of the mouth and esophagus and fatalities from ingesting caustic substances have occurred in farm families when hazardous substances were improperly used and stored on farms.

Chloracne and other effects from chlorinated hydrocarbons 
Family members have been exposed when these substances were transported home on clothing of workers manufacturing or using these compounds in the production of insulated wire, plastic products, ion exchange resins, and textiles. Family members have been similarly exposed when workers' clothes became contaminated during marine electrical work, transformer maintenance, municipal sewage treatment, rail transportation, wood treatment, and application of herbicides. 

Neurological effects from mercury 
Family members have developed various neurological effects as a result of being exposed to mercury carried home on clothing of workers engaged in mining, thermometer manufacture, and cottage-industry gold extraction, 
Abnormal development from estrogenic substances 
Enlarged breasts have occurred in boys and girls and premature menstruation has occurred in girls from estrogenic substances brought home on contaminated clothing of pharmaceutical and farm workers. 
Asthmatic and allergic reactions from dusts 
Farm families and others have suffered asthmatic and other allergic effects from animal allergens, mushrooms, grain dust, and platinum salts. 

Liver angiosarcoma from arsenic 
Families of workers engaged in mining, smelting, and wood treatment have been exposed to arsenic from contaminated skin and clothing; one child developed liver angiosarcoma. 

Dermatitis from fibrous glass 
Family members have developed dermatitis when their clothing was contaminated with fibrous glass during laundering of insulation workers' clothing. 
Status epilepticus from chemical exposure 
A child experienced epileptic seizures following ingestion of an explosive compound brought home on the clothing of a worker engaged in the manufacture of explosives. 

Diseases from infectious agents 
Family members have contracted infectious diseases such as scabies and Q fever from agents brought home on contaminated clothing and skin of workers engaged in agriculture, hospital, and laboratory work. As intended by Congress, infectious agents are included as hazardous substances to the extent that pathogens can be transported on a worker's person or clothing. 

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