Two-Thirds of Workers Test Positive for Lead at Wis. Shipyard



More than two-thirds of workers servicing an aging vessel had high levels of lead in their blood after they were exposed to the metal at a Wisconsin shipyard, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Separate investigations at Superior, Wis.-based Fraser Shipyards Inc. launched by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Minnesota Department of Health found 177 of the 233 workers tested by the agencies—or 73.4 percent—had “elevated” levels of lead in their blood, as defined by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Around 15 percent of the 177 workers had lead levels in their blood 40 to 60 times higher than the average person, according to the Jan. 13 report.

Workers at Fraser Shipyards began modernizing the vessel Herbert C. Jackson under a $10 million contract last January, but suspended work in March 2016 because of worker complaints.  Subsequently, the two state agencies began interviewing workers to determine any ill health effects.  Blood tests on individuals followed those telephone interviews.

While the shipyard paid penalties related to a 2016 Occupational Safety and Health Administration case and the state agency investigations are now complete, Fraser Shipyards still faces a workplace safety and health dispute in federal court.  A welder who worked on the ship launched in May 2016 a lawsuit alleging workplace injuries and is seeking the full cost of damages ( Holder v. Fraser Shipyards Inc. , W.D. Wis., No. 16-cv-00343, complaint 5/25/16 ).

Fraser Shipyards did not immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

OSHA Action

OSHA proposed imposing $1.39 million in penalties on Fraser Shipyards after its investigation, which began in February 2016.  The agency determined some shipyard workers were exposed to lead and other heavy metals in violation of federal statutes.  After a consultation with the agency, Fraser Shipyards paid $700,000 in penalties.

Fraser Shipyards knew of the presence of lead and asbestos throughout the vessel, built in 1959, OSHA said in its report, which asserted a “willful” violation for exposing employees to lead for more than eight hours.  It also said the shipyards exposed workers to iron, oxide, arsenic, hexavalent chromium and cadmium.

The lawsuit’s complaint said Holder and others working on the ship “were immersed in and within close proximity to fumes and airborne particulates,” including lead.  Defendants “knew or should have known these workers were being exposed to the hazards of occupational diseases, including, but not limited to, lead poisoning, in violation of federal, state, local and industry safety rules, regulations, guidelines and procedures,” the complaint said.

Matt Sims of Rapoport Law Offices in Chicago represents Holder and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Richard John Leighton of Johnson Killen & Seiler PA in Duluth, Minn., represents Fraser Shipyards and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Source: Bloomberg BNA


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