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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU: ‘Take-Home’ Exposures Are Public Health Hazard

A new review co-authored by Boston University School of Public Health researchers calls for recognition of “take-home” exposures — exposures to toxic contaminants inadvertently brought home from a family member’s work — as a public health hazard. The review was published in Annals of Work Exposures and Health.

Take-home exposures often fall into a regulatory blind spot, says corresponding author Dr. Diana Ceballos, assistant professor of environmental health.

“Although OSHA regulates some workplace exposures that can become take-home exposures, such as asbestos and lead, often regulations are not up to date or enforced enough to be protective of health at the family level,” she says.

Dr. Ceballos says cases tied to take-home exposures are all too common. When she was an industrial hygienist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she worked on several such cases, including one where two young children had been poisoned by lead from their father’s work at an electronics recycling facility. Grinding up lead glass from cathode ray tubes, the father was not exposed to enough lead to affect his health, but the lead dust that came home with him quickly affected the health of his young children. “The father had only worked at this facility for about a year when his kids’ physician found they were poisoned,” Dr. Ceballos says.

In their review of research related to take-home exposure, Dr. Ceballos and her colleagues conclude that the issue is not a matter of worker carelessness, a view often aired with the dehumanizing expression “soiling one’s own nest.” Instead, they argue, these exposures are part of much larger systemic issues, where workers and their families face challenges to their health and safety at work and at home.

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