Kelley, M., Watson, P., Thorton, D., and Halpin, T.
J. Lead intoxication associated with chewing plastic wire coating. Morbidity and Mortality
Weekly Report 42:465-467. 1993 [A Centers for Disease Control document]
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Jan. '99: Lead, Cadmium, Phthalates still found in Children's Products
Epidemiologic Notes and Reports:
Lead Intoxication Associated with
Chewing Plastic Wire Coating -- Ohio
In December 1991, a venous blood lead level (BLL) of 50
was detected in a 46-year-old Ohio man during a routine
pre-employment examination. He was referred to a university-based
pharmacology and toxicology clinic for further evaluation; clinic
physicians investigated the case. Although a repeat BLL obtained 1
month later was 51 ug/dL, he reported no exposure to known sources
of lead during the interim. However, he reported numbness of his
fingers and palms, tinnitus, and a possible decrease in his ability
to perform basic arithmetical calculations.
A comprehensive occupational and environmental history
obtained at the time of the second BLL test revealed no apparent
source of his lead exposure. Although he had been employed for
approximately 20 years as a microwave technician during military
service and while employed at a television station, he reported no
history of exposure to lead from soldering or welding. He had no
activities or hobbies associated with exposure to lead or lead
products, no previous bullet or birdshot wounds, and he denied
drinking illicitly distilled alcohol or using lead additives in hiscar.
His residence was built in 1974 (after lead was banned from use in residential paint)*, and household water was obtained from a well. In January 1992, blood lead testing of family members revealed levels of 5 ug/dL for his wife and less than 5 ug/dL for his 17-year-old child. His only medication was ranitidine**, which he had used for the previous 1-1/2 years for "indigestion." He reported occasional cigarette smoking.
Although results of a neurologic examination were normal,
neuropsychiatric testing on March 13 demonstrated mild memory
deficits, as evidenced by abnormalities on verbal and figural
memory tests. Because of these abnormalities, beginning March 13,
he was treated for 19 days with dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA), an
oral chelating agent, and on April 4, his BLL had decreased to 13
ug/dL. However, BLLs on May 15 and July 23 were 49 ug/dL and 56
During a July 1992 follow-up clinic visit, he
for approximately 20 years he had habitually chewed on the plastic
insulation that he stripped off the ends of electrical wires.
Samples of the copper wire with white, blue, and yellow plastic
insulation were obtained and analyzed for lead content. The clear
plastic outer coating (present on all colors of wire) and the
copper wire contained no lead; however, the colored coatings
contained 10,000-39,000 ug of lead per gram of coating.*** On
receipt of these results, he was instructed immediately to
discontinue chewing the wire coating.
Lead compounds may be employed in the production of colored
plastics (in which lead chromates are used as pigment) and in the
manufacture of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics (in which 2%-5%
lead salts [including lead oxides, phthalate, sulfate, or
carbonate, depending on the desired quality of the final product]
are used as stabilizers). Although environmental regulation has
reduced considerably the amount of lead used in the United States
in the manufacture of PVC plastics, manufacturers of electrical
wire and cable continue to produce PVC stabilized and/or pigmented
with lead compounds (6).
More than 573,400 U.S. workers are employed in occupations
involving electrical work. Among these workers, potential for
excessive exposure to lead may result from inhalation of fumes
generated during lead soldering (7). Because the plastic coating
from wires is usually removed by mechanical stripping, ingestion of
lead from these plastic coatings is probably uncommon. Nonetheless,
the findings in this report remind occupational and other
health-care providers of the need to be aware of this potential
source of lead exposure. In addition, workers should be warned of
the potential hazard of chewing plastic coatings or other plastic
products that may contain lead.References
1. Skillern CP. Experience with burned lead-in-plastic material. Am
Ind Hyg Assoc J 1969;30:648-9.
2. CDC. Lead chromate exposures and elevated blood lead levels in
workers in the plastics pigmenting industry--Texas, 1990. MMWR1992;41:304-6.
3. Ong CH, Ong HY, Khoo NY. Lead exposure in PVC stabilizer
production. Appl Ind Hyg 1989;4:39-44.
4. CDC. Surveillance of elevated blood lead levels among adults--
United States, 1992. MMWR 1992;41:285-8.
5. Liss GM, Halperin WE, Landrigan PJ. Occupational asthma in a
home pieceworker. J Occup Med 1986;41:359-62.
6. The Vinyl Institute. Characterization of lead in plastics
products in municipal solid waste, 1970 to 2000. Prairie Village,
Kansas: Franklin Associates, Ltd, 1990.
7. NIOSH. Health hazard evaluation report no. HETA 90-075-2298.
Cincinnati: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public
Health Service, CDC, 1993.
*16 CFR Section 1303.2. Ban of lead-containing paint and certain
consumer products bearing lead-containing paint.
**Ranitidine alters gastric acidity, which theoretically can
influence gastrointestinal absorption of lead.
***Samples were analyzed using graphite furnace atomic absorption
spectroscopy, following dissolution of the plastic coating intetrahydrofuran.
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