Mar 25, 2021 - News

Tampa factory exposed hundreds of workers to high lead levels for a decade

A sign on a vintage gasoline can warning of lead. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Times dropped part one of its "Poisoned" series Wednesday — an investigative look into the dangers of the Gopher Resource, a lead-smelting factory in Tampa.

Why it matters: The only lead smelter in the state, Gopher employs more 300 people — mostly Black or immigrants — and they've been exposed to dangerously high lead levels for a decade.

  • "Regular tasks" left workers "caked with [lead] dust, as though they'd been dunked in powdered sugar."
  • Health department records show the plant is why Hillsborough has more adult lead poisoning cases than any other county in the state.
  • The reporters examined thousands of pages of regulatory reports and company documents, including data tracking the amount of lead in the air and in workers’ blood.

Points of intrigue:

  • Gopher's company-contracted doctor didn’t tell workers their blood-lead levels put them in danger and cleared them for work even when they had lead-related health problems.
  • The company hasn't crossed OSHA's line for the maximum amount of lead allowed inside a worker’s body — but the Times points out that standard was established 42 years ago, and health officials have called it "out of touch with modern science."

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