Influence of task-based airborne lead exposures on blood lead levels: a case study of informal automobile repair artisans in Nakuru town, Kenya

  • Owino Alfred OdongoEmail author
  • W. N. Moturi
  • Meshack Amos Obonyo
Original Research


Lead poisoning is an emerging worldwide public health concern, especially in the developing countries. Occupational tasks such as spray painting and welding in informal automobile repair enterprises present risks of exposures to lead generally through inhalation and ingestion. The artisans therefore risk high blood lead (BPb) levels, which is critical to chronic adverse health effects of lead. The study aimed at assessing the influence of occupational tasks on personal airborne lead exposures and to evaluate the association between these exposures with blood lead (BPb) levels among the artisans. A cross-sectional study was conducted in ten informal automobile repair workshops. Task-specific personal inhalable air samples and blood samples were collected concurrently for 20 participants performing five distinct occupational tasks. Lead levels were analysed using inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy and data analysed by analysis of variance, simple and multiple linear regressions. The results indicated significant differences in airborne lead (PbA) exposure levels in different occupational tasks (p = 0.000). Lead–acid battery repairs recorded mean PbA exposure level of [76.11 ± (10.81 SE) µg/m3] exceeding the WHO 50 µg/m3 airborne lead permissible exposure limit. The average (PbA) exposure level was 22.55 ± (5.05 SE) µg/m3, while the mean (BPb) level was 25.08 ± (3.48 SE) µg/dl. A significant positive correlation between task-based airborne lead with blood lead levels was observed (r = 0.68, p = 0.001). In conclusion, the occupational tasks influenced personal airborne lead exposure levels, which in turn was an important predictor of blood lead levels. The study recommends lead exposure assessments, medical screening and intervention measures to minimize the risk and consequences of occupational exposures to lead among the study population.


Task-based airborne lead Blood lead levels Occupational tasks Informal automobile repairs Lead poisoning 



The authors wish to thank the artisans who consented and participated in the study, the departments of Biochemistry and Environmental Science of Egerton University, and the local government public health authorities for their kind cooperation and technical assistance during the period of study. The authors also thank Kenya National Research Fund (NRF) (Grant No. NRF Ist/2016-2017/Eger 07) for the financial assistance.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). (2007). Toxicological profile for lead. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. Accessed May 12, 2018.
  2. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). (2019). Toxicological profile for lead. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.Google Scholar
  3. Ahmad, I., Khan, B., Khan, S., Khan, M. T., & Schwab, A. P. (2018). Assessment of lead exposure among automobile technicians in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Science of the Total Environment, 633(2018), 293–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ashraph, J. J., Kinyua, R., Mugambi, F., & Kalebi, A. (2013). Health effects of lead exposure among Jua Kali (informal sector) workers in Mombasa, Kenya: A case study of the Express Jua Kali workers. International Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences, 5(1), 24–29.Google Scholar
  5. Balkhyour, M. A., & Goknil, M. K. (2010). Total fume and metal concentrations during welding in selected factories in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 7(7), 2978–2987.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bierkens, J., Smolders, R., Van Holderbeke, M., & Cornelis, C. (2011). Predicting blood lead levels from current and past environmental data in Europe. Science of the Total Environment, 409(23), 5101–5110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bloom, D. E., & Canning, D. (2000). The health and wealth of nations. Science, 287(5456), 1207–1209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2012). CDC response to Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention recommendations in “Low level lead exposure harms children: A renewed call of primary prevention”. Atlanta GA: US CDC. Accessed August 13, 2018.
  9. Clere, F. H. (1994). Particulate not otherwise regulated, respirable (NIOSH 0600). NIOSH manual of analytical methods (NMAM). Cincinnati: Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  10. Cornelis, R., Heinzow, B., Herber, R. F. M., Christensen, J. M., Poulsen, O. M., Sabbioni, E., et al. (1996). Sample collection guidelines for trace elements in blood and urine. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, 10(2), 103–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. De Medinilla, J., & Espigares, M. (1991). Environmental and biological monitoring of workers exposed to inorganic lead. Occupational Medicine, 41(3), 107–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Far, H. S., Pin, N. T., Kong, C. Y., San Fong, K., Kian, C. W., & Yan, C. K. (1993). An evaluation of the significance of mouth and hand contamination for lead absorption in lead-acid battery workers. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 64(6), 439–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Foeken, D. W., & Owuor, S. O. (2000). Urban farmers in Nakuru Kenya. Leiden: African Studies Centre.Google Scholar
  14. Gharaibeh, M. Y., Hasan Alzoubi, K., Falah Khabour, O., Saleh Khader, Y., & Khalid, Matarneh S. (2014). Lead exposure among five distinct occupational groups: A comparative study. Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 27(1), 39–43.Google Scholar
  15. Gottesfeld, P., & Pokhrel, A. K. (2011). Lead exposure in battery manufacturing and recycling in developing countries and among children in nearby communities. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 8(9), 520–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Government of Kenya. (1999). Environmental management and coordination act, EMCA (Act No 8 of 1999). Nairobi: Government Printer.Google Scholar
  17. Government of Kenya. (2007a). Occupational safety and health act. Nairobi: Government Printer.Google Scholar
  18. Government of Kenya. (2007b). Kenya factories and other places of work act, (cap. 514), hazardous substances regulation. Nairobi: Government Printer.Google Scholar
  19. Government of Kenya. (2014). Environmental management and coordination (air quality) regulations. Nairobi: Government Printer.Google Scholar
  20. Holland, M. G., & Cawthon, D. (2016). Workplace lead exposure. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 58(12), 371–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hsu, D. J., Chung, S. H., Dong, J. F., Shih, H. C., Chang, H. B., & Chien, Y. C. (2018). Water-based automobile paints potentially reduce the exposure of refinish painters to toxic metals. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(5), 899.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ibeh, N., Aneke, J., Okocha, C., Okeke, C., & Nwachukwuma, J. (2016). The influence of occupational lead exposure on haematological indices among petrol station attendants and automobile mechanics in Nnewi, South-East Nigeria. Journal of Environmental and Occupational Science, 5(1), 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). (2017). GBD compare. Seattle, WA: IHME, University of Washington.Google Scholar
  24. Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). (2016). Kenya Economic Survey 2015. Nairobi: Government Printer.Google Scholar
  25. Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). (2018). Kenya Economic Survey 2017. Nairobi: Government Printer.Google Scholar
  26. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (1994). NIOSH manual of analytical methods, method no. 7300, elements by ICP-AES. Cincinnati, Ohio: NIOSH.Google Scholar
  27. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2017a). Information for workers. Jobs that may have lead exposure. Accessed August 13, 2018.
  28. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2017b). Reference blood lead levels (BLLs) for adults in the U.S. Accessed October 7, 2018.
  29. Nunez, C. M., Klitzman, S., & Goodman, A. (1993). Lead exposure among automobile radiator repair workers and their children in New York City. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 23(5), 763–777.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). (2013). Lead exposureIndustry group profile (Subcategory) OSHA IMIS personal sampling data for lead (20072011). Accessed August 13, 2018.
  31. Pierre, F., Vallayer, C., Baruthio, F., Peltier, A., Pale, S., Rouyer, J., et al. (2002). Specific relationship between blood lead and air lead in the crystal industry. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 75(4), 217–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ravichandran, B., Ravibabu, K., Raghavan, S., Krishnamurthy, V., & Hr, R. (2005). Environmental and biological monitoring in a lead acid battery manufacturing unit in India. Journal of Occupational Health, 47(4), 350–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Riva, M. A., Lafranconi, A., D’orso, M. I., & Cesana, G. (2012). Lead poisoning: Historical aspects of a paradigmatic “occupational and environmental disease”. Safety and Health at Work, 3(1), 11–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rodrigues, E. G., Virji, M. A., McClean, M. D., Weinberg, J., Woskie, S., & Pepper, L. D. (2009). Personal exposure, behavior, and work site conditions as determinants of blood lead among bridge painters. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 7(2), 80–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Saliu, A., Adebayo, O., Odeyemi, K., Ogunowo, B., & Abdulsalam, I. (2015). Comparative assessment of blood lead levels of automobile technicians in organized and roadside garages in Lagos, Nigeria. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 9, 1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Smallwood, A. W. (1994). NIOSH manual of analytical methods, method no. 8003, lead in blood and urine. Cincinnati, Ohio: NIOSH.Google Scholar
  37. Suplido, M. L., & Ong, C. N. (2000). Lead exposure among small-scale battery recyclers, automobile radiator mechanics, and their children in Manila, the Philippines. Environmental Research, 82, 231–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tripathi, R. M., Raghunath, R., Kumar, A. V., Sastry, V. N., & Sadasivan, S. (2001). Atmospheric and children’s blood lead as indicators of vehicular traffic and other emission sources in Mumbai, India. Science of the Total Environment, 267(1–3), 101–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ulenbelt, P., Lumens, M. E., Géron, H. M., Herber, R. F., Broersen, S., & Zielhuis, R. L. (1990). Work hygienic behaviour as modifier of the lead air-lead blood relation. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 62(3), 203–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. UN-HABITAT. (2010). The state of African Cities 2010: Governance, inequality and urban land markets. Nairobi, UN-HABITAT.…/state-of-african-cities-2010-governance-inequalities-and-urban. Accessed September 28, 2019.
  41. United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP). (2010). Final review of scientific information on lead. Geneva: United Nations Environmental Programme, Chemical Branch.Google Scholar
  42. Were, F. H., Kamau, G. N., Shiundu, P. M., Wafula, G. A., & Moturi, C. M. (2012). Air and blood lead levels in lead acid battery recycling and manufacturing plants in Kenya. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 9(5), 340–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. World Health Organization. (2010). Chemicals of public concern: Public health and environment. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  44. World Health Organization. (2018). Lead poisoning and health. Accessed September 28, 2019.
  45. World Medical Association. (2013). World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki: Ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects. JAMA, 310, 2191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wu, Y., Gu, J. M., Huang, Y., Duan, Y. Y., Huang, R. X., & Hu, J. A. (2016). Dose-response relationship between cumulative occupational lead exposure and the associated health damages: A 20-year cohort study of a smelter in China. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(3), 328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Health Sciences, School of Public HealthMount Kenya UniversityThikaKenya
  2. 2.Department of Environmental ScienceEgerton UniversityNjoroKenya
  3. 3.Department of Biochemistry and Molecular BiologyEgerton UniversityNjoroKenya

Personalised recommendations