Minnesota: Lead testing urged for children of workers at Federal Ammunition site in Anoka County

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is urging employees of the Federal Ammunition plant in Anoka to have their children tested for lead exposure after MDH, Anoka County and St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health identified four children with elevated blood lead levels due to exposure to lead dust that was brought home accidentally on the clothing and personal items of family members who work at the plant.

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Health officials are concerned there may be other children of plant employees who were exposed to what is known as “take-home lead dust” and have not been tested. Additionally, the company has yet to demonstrate that it has made sufficient changes in the operations at the plant to sufficiently reduce the risk of take-home lead dust.

Health officials learned of the children’s elevated blood lead levels through testing that is part of routine well-child visits conducted by health care providers. Routine screening for blood lead is recommended as a standard of care for children at 1 year and 2 years of age. All four children had blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL), the level at which an assessment of the child’s possible exposures is required.

The first child’s elevated blood lead level was identified in November 2021, and subsequent cases were detected in late 2022 and early 2023. The series of cases indicates an ongoing exposure problem requiring additional prevention actions.

Federal Ammunition uses lead to produce ammunition for a variety of sporting firearms.

While elevated blood lead levels in children are typically associated with in-home exposures to lead-based paint, investigators in these cases determined that the children’s high levels were linked to take-home lead dust. In the absence of appropriate industrial hygiene practices, lead dust can accumulate on workers’ bodies, clothing, shoes and personal items, and may be brought home unknowingly. Because lead dust is heavy, it can accumulate in homes and vehicles and is not easily removed. Family members living with the workers who bring lead dust home can ingest the lead dust, which can accumulate in their bodies.

In each of the children’s homes, health investigators did not find lead paint or other usual sources of lead. Dust wipe samples found lead in areas such as car floors, the bottoms of the shoes the parents wear to work and floors where parents leave their work shoes.

Due to issues not directly related to the first case, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry in late 2021 issued citations for violations of OSHA lead standards. As part of its resolution of those citations, it required the plant managers to implement measures to improve its changing rooms, which would reduce the amount of lead dust workers take home from the plant. Since that time, three additional cases associated with the plant were detected. MDH has communicated with plant managers about the take-home lead exposure cases. However, these recent cases are evidence of lead dust continuing to leave the facility and prompted MDH to make this notification.

MDH, St. Paul – Ramsey County Public Health and Anoka County Public Health are working with the families of identified cases. They also want to ensure all at-risk workers and family members are tested and that families have access to information on reducing lead exposure.

Workers are encouraged to connect with their primary health care provider to ensure that all children up to age 17 and pregnant household members receive a blood lead test. Workers at the plant may also wish to be tested if they have not received occupational blood lead testing through their employer. In addition, free blood lead testing is available at the following dates and locations:

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