How to Deal with Lead in House Paint?

Consumption of lead in any form or through any mode is toxic to the health of all individuals more so in the case of pregnant women, unborn babies and kids who are exposed to greater risk. Ingestion of small quantities of the toxic substance over a period leads to its accumulation in the body can cause harm.

One of the ways lead can enter the body is through house painting. This may seem surprising though houses painted prior to the ’70s in Australia were loaded with lead. Dust chips or particles normally produced during minor house repairs can affect the health of homeowners.

When does lead in house paint prove hazardous?

Areas coated with lead-based paints that offer maximum exposure to the toxic substance include window frames, skirting boards, doors, washroom and kitchen cabinets, metal surfaces, gutters and walls on the exterior of the house. If ceilings and walls in the interior have a coat of red and pink primer, then they too can prove harmful if they are disturbed. Lead-based paint can seep into the garden soil of old homes and contaminate them.

Lead in the paint can pose a danger if the condition of the paint is deteriorating or if the surface is disturbed during a home repair or renovation project. Flaked or chalked paint can become a high-risk area.

Using techniques of dry sanding, blasting, dry scraping, burning or power tools for paint removal can create a health hazard due to the possibility of the dust particles getting inhaled or settling into the carpet or furnishing making its removal difficult.

How does lead in house paint put your family at risk?

  • Paint on railings is within the reach of children and the lead in it can prove harmful if the child unknowingly chews on it.
  • Lead can be ingested by toddlers handling dust-laden toys containing lead, rubbing hands along chalked or flaked walls and inadvertently putting them into their mouth or through contaminated soil.
  • Pets can ingest paint dust or paint chips.

What safety precautions should be taken?

  • Getting blood tests done to clear doubts on the possibility of lead consumption or contamination.
  • Taking due care while undertaking home renovations and repairs and consideration of recommended handling and removal guidelines.

In this context, it is essential to refer to guidelines defined in the booklet ‘Lead Alert- The Six-Step Guide to Painting Your Home’ brought out by the Department of Environment.

The booklet provides pointers on some dos and don’ts’s.

Do’s & Don’ts given in the booklet

Do’s- Include using:

  • Right mode of testing for lead-based paint
  • Correct equipment and tools
  • Correct processes for stripping/removal/covering the paint
  • Right protective gear including a respirator as required under the Australian Standard 1716 if the work leads to generation of lead-laden dust or fumes
  • Correct process for cleaning up meticulously
  • Correct process for waste disposal

Don’t’s – Include avoid-

  • Working on windy and wet days
  • Letting kids, pregnant/nursing women in the vicinity
  • Using heat gun with high temperature or open flame torch
  • Using dry sanding, dry scraping, sandblasting or regular power sander
  • Smoking, eating or drinking with contaminated hands in the area of work

Even if professional help is sought the booklet provides good guidance when any work related to lead-based paint has to be done.

What are the steps undertaken by the Government?

  • Reduction in Permissible Quantities of Lead Over the Years

The permissible quantities of lead in paints have reduced over the years from 50% prior to 1965 to 1% in 1965. This dropped drastically to 0.25% in 1992 followed by a further reduction in 1997to about 0.1%.

  • Introducing regulations on lead-laden waste disposal
  • Increasing awareness among professionals and home renovators about health hazards posed by lead-based paints
  • Offering safety guidelines in this context

For more information on testing your paint, view our Paint Lead Test Kit or consult with your local city council.