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Screening Methods for Airborne Metals in Construction


Provide methods and technologies for on-site screening of metals in workplace samples to allow worker exposure and the effectiveness of control measures to be assessed in a timely manner.

Research Summary

Several million workers in the United States are exposed to toxic metals on the job. Traditional exposure monitoring techniques requiring laboratory analysis are not always useful in the construction industry because results may not be available quickly enough to avoid overexposures or prolonged shutdown periods. Therefore, new methods for monitoring metals on-site, including metal species not previously investigated, need to be developed and evaluated so that information about worker exposures can be provided rapidly or, in some cases, even before work begins.

Although several portable analysis technologies and methods for measuring concentrations of airborne metals have been developed recently, they have not seen wide use in the workplace. This may be due to expense, complexity, poor limits of detection or accuracy relative to laboratory-based analysis, and nonaccepted by regulatory agencies. For example, portable anodic stripping voltammetry (ASV) and portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) have recently been field-tested at construction and mining sites in collaborative work with Spokane Research Laboratory; the Health Effects Laboratory Division; and the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies. other emerging technologies, such as laser- and spark-induced breakdown spectroscopy, show strong potential to provide real-time or near-real-time readings of airborne metal concentrations. These collaborations will afford more comprehensive development and assessments of the performance and cost-effectiveness of portable technology in many workplace settings.

The refinement and careful testing of existing field-portable methods, along with the development of new ones, could herald a generations of simplified instruments and tools capable of providing rugged, accurate, and cost-effective screening for numerous airborne metals in the workplace on a near-real-time basis.



Esswein, E., M. Boeniger, and K. Ashley. 2001. Handwipe disclosing method for the presence of lead. U.S. Patent 6,248,593.

Recent Citations

  1. Sussell, A., and K. Ashley. 2002. Field measurement of lead in workplace air and paint chip samples by ultrasonic extraction and portable anodic stripping voltammetry. Journal of Environmental Monitoring, v. 4, pp. 156-161.
  2. Song, R., P.C. Schlecht, and K. Ashley. 2001. Field screening test methods: Performance criteria and performance characteristics. Journal of Hazardous Materials, v. 83, pp. 29-39.
  3. Ashley, K., T.J. Wise, W. Mercado, and D.B. Parry. 2001 Ultrasonic extraction and field-portable anodic stripping voltammetric measurement of lead in dust wipe samples. Journal of Hazardous Materials, v. 83, pp. 41-50.
  4. Marlow, D., J. Wang, T.J. Wise, and K. Ashley. 2000. Field test of a portable method for the determination of hexavalent chromium in workplace air. American Laboratory, v. 32, no. 15, pp. 26-28.

Point of Contact

Kevin Ashley, Division of Applied Research and Technology, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Phone: (513) 841-4402.

Disclaimer Statement

This research is a part of "A Compendium of NIOSH Construction Research 2002" published by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH Publication No. 2003-103). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this research are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Construction Safety Alliance.

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