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Case study: occupational health risk in metal artisanal workplaces in Bhutan

Metal casting is a commonly practiced trade in Bhutan used to make cultural artifacts for tourist and local consumption. There is widespread use of mercury and lead in the industry. Besides direct occupational exposure, there is also indirect exposure of families through dust on clothing. Both lead and mercury are harmful to health, causing multiple immediate and long-term adverse outcomes in adults, children and infants.

Site visits in response to concerns raised about the health and environmental risks of lead and mercury revealed numerous cases of potential exposure. This study was developed to further assess the lead and mercury exposure and health consequences among employees of three metal casting units in Thimpu. The Royal Centre for Disease Control led the study commissioned by the Occupational Health and Chemical Safety Programme, Ministry of Health.

This activity aligns with WHO Chemicals Road Map actions – specifically, the Knowledge and Evidence Action – in that it fills gaps in scientific knowledge; investigates the link between exposure and health impacts; and facilitates coordination of the Ministry of Health, health-care establishments and poison centres to enhance toxicosurveillance. It also aligns with the Risk Reduction Action in developing and launching public awareness campaigns, promoting communication of relevant information, and implementing risk reduction actions and prevention strategies.