The Hazard Source
Workers using thermal cutting tools (e.g., an exothermic slice torch) to de-tension (or destress) cables embedded in concrete structures are exposed to lead and other hazardous metals.
Lead is present in the metal wedges used to hold steel strands under tension inside cables. The wedges are embedded in an anchor plate. As workers “burn out” the wedge material it’s converted into fine lead particles that form a smoke cloud or haze in the work area.
Cable de-tensioning typically occurs on construction projects in congested urban areas during building foundation modifications and decommissioning of infrastructure like bridges and freeway overpasses.
Exposures and Health
Workers, including helpers, can inhale harmful amounts of lead during de-tensioning. exposure depends on ventilation, burn-outspeed, shift duration, proximity to emissions, work space dimensions and other conditions.
Lead particles also settle on and contaminate clothes, skin and hair. workers can spread this contamination to vehicles and residences when proper hygiene precautions aren’t followed at the job site.
Lead on hands, face or surfaces can get ingested by workers when transferred to food and other consumable materials, even sweat.
Inhaling or ingesting lead can lead to a variety of serious health problems such as nausea, fatigue, muscle weakness, kidney disease, irritability and reproductive damage. Risk for health problems increases with increased exposure.