Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1979;5(4):336-344    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.2648

The battle against occupational lead poisoning in Finland. Experiences during the 15-year period 1964--1978.

by Hernberg S, Tola S

Occupational lead poisoning has been greatly reduced as a problem in Finland during the 1970s. Case-finding efforts and increased awareness of plant physicians first caused an increase of the incidence with a peak of 89 reported cases in 1974. A sharp decline followed, and, although about 30 mild cases are still reported annually, classical clinical poisoning hardly exists anymore. An extensive regular monitoring program covering 8,000--10,000 blood lead (PbB) analyses a year also shows that exposure levels have been reduced. In 1977 only 70 PbB values, or 1%, were in excess of 70 micrograms/100 ml, and 243 values (4%) exceeded 60 micrograms/100 ml. All such values came from workers employed by less than 30 workplaces, and several of them belonged to workers monitored more than once a year. It is proposed that the general development of occupational health in Finland is to a great extent reflected in this favorable development; however, since special research, educational and informative efforts have been devoted to the lead problem, it may well be that these measures have also influenced the outcome. The results show that, on a nationwide scale, the lead problem can be coped with much more effectively than one has been apt to think. Hence the nonfeasibility of lowering maximum permissible exposure levels has been put in serious doubt. There is no reason to allow unnecessarily high exposure in the vast majority of workplaces only because a small minority has technical difficulties.