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January 21, 1961

Lead Poisoning in Scrap-Metal Workers

JAMA. 1961;175(3):238-240. doi:10.1001/jama.1961.63040030008017a

DURING THE summer of 1959 an old railroad bridge over the Susquehanna River near Northumberland, Pa., was dismantled. Steel members of the bridge, heavily coated with layers of paint, were cut into 3-ft. lengths to facilitate their handling as scrap steel. The cutting was performed by men working about 3 ft. apart in open air on the river bank using propane-compressed air torches.

While cutting the steel the men were enveloped in dense clouds of bluish smoke which appeared to rise from the paint. Within a week of coming on this job several of the men, and within five weeks all of the seven men who were examined, complained of gagging, nausea, anorexia, muscular weakness, generalized aching, and fatigability. Six of the men had griping abdominal pains. Five were troubled by severe constipation. Vomiting was prominent for a few days in two of the patients, and nausea was noted in