Occupational lead exposure among automotive garage workers – a case study for Jimma town, Ethiopia
1 Department of Environmental Health Sciences, College of Public Health, Jimma University, Jimma, Ethiopia
2 Department of Chemistry, College of Natural Sciences, Jimma University, Jimma, Ethiopia
Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology 2012, 7:15 doi:10.1186/1745-6673-7-15Published: 9 July 2012
In Ethiopia, although there are numerous small-scale and medium industries which use lead-based raw materials that may pose health risks to workers, there are no workplace regulations for lead exposure. Moreover, there are no studies carried out on the blood lead levels (BLLs) of workers or on the contribution of common workplace practices to lead poisoning.
A cross-sectional study on the BLLs of 45 automotive garage workers and 40 non-garage workers was carried out in the town of Jimma, Ethiopia. In addition to BLL analysis, data on some risk factors such as smoking, and chewing ‘khat’ (the leaves of Catha adulis) were gathered through structured questionnaires and interviews and data analysis was performed using SPSS (version 16). The t-test was used to compare mean BLLs of study groups. The analysis of variance (ANOVA), Kruskal-Wallis, Pearson chi-square and odds ratio tests were used to investigate the associations between specific job type, smoking and/or ‘khat’ chewing, service years and occurrence of non-specific symptoms with BLLs.
The mean BLL of the automotive-garage workers was found to be significantly greater than that of the controls. The BLLs of all the lead-exposed individuals were found to be over 10 μg/dL, and 53% of them had BLLs ranging 12 – 20 μg/dL, with the remaining 47% having over 20 μg/dL. The BLL of the workers increased with the duration of working in an automotive garage.
Individuals involved in manual car painting comprise a larger percentage (58%) of those with the highest BLLs (≥ 20 μg/dL). Lead accumulation in individuals who chew ‘khat’ in the work place was found to be faster than in those who are not used to chewing ‘khat’. ‘Khat’ is an evergreen shrub native to tropical East Africa, with dark green opposite leaves which are chewed when fresh for their stimulating effects.
The findings of the study have clearly demonstrated that the BLLs of automotive-garage workers in Jimma town are considerably high with a range of 11.73 – 36.52 μg/dL and the workers are in danger of impending lead toxicity. The BLLs of the workers are influenced by their occupational practices, chewing Catha adulis leaves at the workplace, and the time spent working in an automotive garage.