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Lead Paint Creates Potential New Wave of Occupational Disease Claims

Lead Paint Creates Potential New Wave of Occupational Disease Claims

Workers' Compensation

Occupational lead exposure, especially to lead paint, has been a well-known hazard in the workplace you decades. Recent epidemiological studies demonstrate the causal relationship between exposure to impaired brain function, over time, in adults, resulting in early aging. Employers and insurance carriers should brace themselves for a wave of claims. Occupational exposures over 30 years ago arise from the exposure to lead in paint that has deteriorated and flaked off through decomposition, friction, repair replacement, or improper encapsulation, which may trigger an enormous amount of expensive claims.

"The federal government has, through multiple agencies, extensively reviewed the health effects of lead upon workers. Coordinating their effort through the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) the federal government has alerted both employers and employees to the health hazards of lead and the techniques to be utilized when handling this hazardous substance.

"Lead, a bluish-gray metal, has been used since ancient times because of its unusual properties, such as a low melting point, pliability, and corrosion resistance. Hippocrates reported in 370 B.C. that a worker who had used lead suffered a severe case of colic. Lead is used in older American homes, and lead exposures occur in the workplace because of the widespread use of lead compounds in paints, gasoline, and industry during the past century.

"The worker becomes exposed to lead when dust and fumes are inhaled and when lead is ingested through contamination on hands, water, food, and clothing. When lead enters the respiratory and digestive tracts of the human body, it is released into the blood and distributed throughout the system. More than 90% of the body's lead is accumulated in the bones, where it is stored for many years. The bones then release the lead back into the bloodstream and re-expose the system long after the original occupational exposure has ceased.


Exposure to lead paint in the workplace can have numerous adverse consequences for workers, including short-term and long-term health effects.

One of the main dangers of lead paint is that it can be inhaled as a fine dust, which can then enter the body through the respiratory system. Once inside the body, lead can accumulate in the bones and tissues, leading to a condition known as lead poisoning. Symptoms of lead poisoning can include abdominal pain, constipation, nausea, fatigue, and irritability, as well as more serious problems such as seizures, coma, and even death.

Long-term exposure to lead paint can also have serious consequences for workers' health. Studies have shown that lead exposure can increase the risk of high blood pressure, kidney damage, and fertility problems in both men and women. It can also affect the development of children, causing learning and behavior problems, as well as a decreased IQ.

In addition to the health risks associated with lead paint, it can also have negative impacts on workers' productivity and overall quality of life. Workers who are exposed to lead paint may experience difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and difficulty performing tasks that require coordination and fine motor skills. This can make it difficult for them to do their jobs effectively and can also lead to accidents and injuries on the job.

Overall, it is clear that exposure to lead paint in the workplace can have serious and potentially life-threatening consequences for workers. Employers have a responsibility to protect their employees from these dangers, and it is important for workers to be aware of the risks and to take precautions to protect themselves from lead paint exposure.

"Lead damages the blood-brain barrier and subsequently damages brain tissue. Workers exposed to lead may experience fatigue, irritability, insomnia, headaches, and other subtle mental and intellectual decline effects. Prolonged exposure to lead may present symptoms such as anemia. Lead inhibits the synthesis of heme and damages the ion transport system in the red blood cell membranes. Chronic high exposure to lead may result in chronic nephropathy and in some extreme cases, kidney failure. Gelman, Jon, Workers' Compensation Law 3rd ed., 38 NJPRAC 9.24 (West-Thomson 2023)

It has recently been reported in the
scientific literature that lead, absorbed into the bloodstream over decades, may result in poor performance in various mental functions. In a recent study, Dr. Brian Schwartz of Johns Hopkins University remarked that lengthy exposure to lead, cumulative over the years, may cause an aging brain to function at a level that is five years older than it is. The Studies at Johns Hopkins objectively measured lead absorbed over a lifetime in human bodies. Dr. Brian Schwartz remarked, "We're trying to offer a caution that a portion of what has been called normal aging might be due to ubiquitous environmental exposures like lead."

Like asbestos and tobacco, lead exposure may cause a latent disease that causes the brain to deteriorate at an accelerated rate. Those who worked with lead, and those who were bystanders to lead exposure in the workplace, may have workers' compensation benefits for the mental condition related to lead exposure.

This significant new research relating lead exposure to aging puts insurance carriers and employers at risk for both direct claims under workers' compensation systems and claims against potential third parties, i.e., property owners and paint manufacturers. Unlike tobacco and asbestos, these claims may be significantly more costly because of the long potential payment period of benefits under workers' compensation acts and the potential legions of workers exposed directly or indirectly.

The author, Jon L. Gelman, practices law in Wayne, NJ. He is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (Thomson-Reuters). For over five decades, the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900 have represented injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.

Recommended Citation: Gelman, Jon L.,  Lead Paint Creates Potential New Wave of Occupational Disease Claims, (2008),

© 2001-2023 Jon L Gelman. All rights reserved.

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