“I always assumed that was the lead… your body will adjust the more it gets used to it.” – Onsite Nurse
We knew when my husband took this new job that he’d work around dangerous chemicals. It was something we were risking because it was the first good job lead we had and it had insurance. Then slowly things started to just seem really odd.
He told me that every year he’d have to have a blood test to check his lead levels as he was told he’d be working around lead. There are other various chemicals, some toxic, mostly just explosive, in a room with maybe a dozen people and a moat (in case the real explosive part blew up it was contained). None of the people wear gloves, masks or eye wear and as my husband eventually realized, you couldn’t really do the job with gloves or eye wear as it is very minuscule pieces that they are dealing with. His fingers couldn’t pick up the pieces in gloves and after awhile he wouldn’t be able to see with all the powder. I asked him what the powder was and he didn’t know. His fingers were stained with it, his eyes were irritated and felt filmy, head to toe covered in some yellow powder. He said he would ask his manager because it was starting to bother his eyes and slow him down. So the other day he asked the manager and the manager said she didn’t know what the yellow dust was either.
The yellow dust is sprayed on everything. I can only imagine to tame the highly explosive content of the materials he’s handling. They spray so much, in fact, that he said in the lunch room there are stains on the walls from people’s heads. No matter how many times he blows his nose, washes his hands, his face, etc. it seems never ending and just sticks to everything. After no one in the room could tell him what the powder was, he wanted to start taking showers before he came home so as not to expose us but they didn’t have showers available for that area.
He tries his best to change his clothes and boots before he ever gets home. This is because there were stories about people accidentally trailing pieces of explosives home and one worker found her toddler with a piece of primer in her ear. Other people with similar stories of accidentally blowing up things at home from dried primer. Since there aren’t showers available, he switches his boots out in the truck and then comes in, directly to the shower and washes after work before any of us can see him.
The yellow powder really got to us, so just the other day he decided he would go ask the nurse what the yellow powder was and she said she had no idea. She actually said she didn’t know. After hearing his concerns she said she assumed it was the Lead and that eventually his body would get used to it. Something you certainly don’t assume a nurse would ever say to you in your lifetime, but this company has it’s own entire medical staff. Anyone feeling ill, having problems, etc. they go to the companies medical staff. However, the companies medical nursing staff apparently doesn’t even know what the chemicals are they are working around.
To top it off, while my husband was waiting for the nurse to come back one of the supervisors (or equivalent) of the building came by and looked at his chart. Mockingly asked him if he wanted a paper mask and my husband was honest and told him that he just really wanted to know what the dust was as it was bothering his eyes. The man literally huffed at him as if he were some weakling and walked away; giving the idea that requesting any safety items was a blemish on his manhood. All anyone cared about was whether or not he was going to go back to work and finish the job and if he couldn’t then he had no place there. My husband did finish work that day and then came home to tell me that no one seemed to know what the yellow powder was and what happened to him at the nurse.
So I started looking.
The presence of lead in human blood can cause damage to and reduce the number of red blood cells, leading to a condition known as anemia. Lead also interferes with the transmission of nerve impulses, resulting in damage to hearing, thinking, sense of touch, and muscle control. Our bodies store lead in the bones as if it were calcium, and it is therefore eliminated very slowly, with a biologic half-life estimated between 10 to 20 years. Because excretion is slow, accumulation in the body occurs readily.
Lead also reacts with oxygen to produce lead oxides. While pure lead is a heavy and solid material, lead oxides are powdery and easily released into the environment. Lead oxide dust from lead shielding and contaminated pallets or surfaces can be harmful to humans even with a short exposure.
As far as I could tell from researching it is the lead that the nurse was talking about, Lead Oxide, a fine yellow dust. This would explain why they have lead tests every year, where he was told only one person ever failed the lead test which is more thorough and has a lower percentage than the mandated government health issued percentage. They have many safety regulations in place for workers, masks, gloves, etc. to keep lead exposure down. In some jobs they do have required hourly showers. The problem is, no one uses them. The other problem is, there are no showers for the primer workers.
My husband has been given a lot of crap for asking questions. To everyone else who has been working there for years he seems pretty crazy, but this is a plant hiring at a very good pay rate out in the middle of no where; obviously there aren’t many jobs that are going to pay these rates elsewhere. So no one else cared what the yellow powder was, it was just what they used. The same as no one cares that they are washing with acetone with bare hands, it takes less time than putting on gloves. With managers that seem to think it is less manly to ask for a paper mask not to breath in the yellow powder all day and seeing the nurse is saw as another weakness to your job potential, who would bother?
After everything, he believes they were giving him looks about his capability to work there. I’m not sure whether asking questions about ways to not accidentally expose his family to explosive materials and lead really counts as an incapability. My husband works in a room where there are patches from small explosions tattering the floors, stories from the workers of horrible accidents (at work/at home) everyday. To them it is just random news everyone knows at the work place, but to him it is a cause for concern. For me, well… it is a cause for some serious anxiety and everyday he goes to work I sit here wondering if he’s okay for eight hours because he can’t have his phone.
Soon he will be required to work 12 hour days, 6 days a week on switch shifts. He wouldn’t be able to call in because he is only allowed 2 points in 90 days, overtime is mandatory for new people. He was told when he was hired that he wouldn’t start that for a few weeks, he’d only be on first shift for 2 weeks for training and then after one week they tossed him into the sprawl with the other new person (who handles the explosive content, who had less training). I just don’t like any of this.
I thought about it for days, writing this, but the more it consumed my thoughts the more I felt I needed to get it out. I just really don’t feel like something is right here. Something just feels really wrong. He tells me that they abide by the regulations, etc. but the regulations are based on people being safe and using protective measures correct? Not based off people handling and breathing these materials without any form of safety measures.
I don’t know what’s going to happen now. We left our unemployment for this job and we’re not sure what will happen if he can’t stay there, would they allow us back on unemployment until another job possibility comes? Who knows. We’re stuck… and I just don’t like it at all.
I want to say thank you to Optics Lab for sending the OcuFresh pack with the eye cleansers. I’ve given them to my husband to clean out his eyes so he can see better. It is very appreciated.