Metal company fined $119,295 over lead levels


The Maryland Occupational Safety and Health office has fined a Hagerstown metals recycler $119,295 on numerous charges of willfully exposing employees to dangerous levels of lead.

The fines, among the largest levied in a single case by MOSH, have been contested by Maxwell Recycling Inc., whose representatives held an informal conference with the state agency yesterday.

More than a half-dozen Maxwell employees were found with dangerously elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to MOSH, which began the investigation last August.

Four workers were exposed to airborne lead levels that ranged from 127 to 200 times the permissible exposure limit set by law for an eight-hour shift, the agency stated.

The occupational safety office charged that Maxwell repeatedly failed to provide proper air monitoring in the work area it knew to be contaminated with lead, that required medical exams were not given to affected employees and that several employees were not removed from lead-exposure work when their blood-lead levels reached the legal limit. Respirators used by employees were faulty, the agency said.

The plant lunchroom also was contaminated with lead dust that could be ingested, MOSH said.

The company was charged with 15 willful violations, seven serious violations and eight "other than serious" violations.

"Acting in disregard of the standards, they placed the health of employees in serious danger," said Craig Lowry, MOSH enforcement chief.

Maxwell was aware of its legal responsibilities because some company principals were also principals in Conservit Inc., another metals recycling firm in Hagerstown that had been cited twice for lead law violations in 1987, Mr. Lowry said. Conservit paid fines of $590 and $395 in those cases.

At one time, Conservit and Maxwell had the same safety director, Mr. Lowry said.

Jack Metzner, vice president of Conservit, confirmed yesterday that principals of his company had been involved as part-owners of Maxwell and were actively contesting the MOSH charges. Conservit does not now have any management involvement with Maxwell, he added.

"We absolutely deny any willful violations" at Maxwell, Mr. Metzner said, declining further comment.

Lead dust and fumes enter the body though breathing and swallowing, and the lead accumulates in bones and tissue. Lead poisoning results in a variety of ailments and can lead to anemia, damage to kidney and nerves, and sterility.

In September, MOSH reported finding an eight-hour average exposure of about 10,000 micrograms of lead per cubic meter for two employees in the Maxwell plant. Federal law limits occupational lead exposure in air to 50 micrograms.

The law also requires that workers with high blood-lead levels be removed from lead exposure and given regular medical tests, but three Maxwell employees were not removed from hazardous exposure or were prematurely returned to exposure, MOSH charged. Five employees with high blood-lead levels did not receive the required medical exams, the agency said.

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