Lead. The Dangers Of Lead Exposed

It is a well know fact that lead poisoning is dangerous and that lead was used in most paints many years ago.

The sad fact is that lead can still be found in paint even today.  That is why it is so important to watch the labels when buying painted children’s toys - but do you take as much care when you are painting a house?

If your property was developed prior to 1970 then it more likely than not has had lead based paint used on it.  It could still contain lead based paint if it were built after this time, but the likelihood reduces.

Understanding the Problem

Lead poisoning in minor cases causes lethargy, but in serious cases it can cause death.  Lead poisoning in infants can result in the child having impaired intellectual development.  The greatest threat is to pregnant women, small children, breast fed infants and domestic animals.  [Source : Queensland Government. Department of Housing and Homelessness]


How Does all this Come About?

Poisoning occurs when particles of lead are inhaled or ingested.  Lead paint in good condition should not typically release particles, but if it is sanded or otherwise destructively disturbed, as is usually the case when renovating, then lead particles are released into the air and surroundings.  Flaking  and powdering lead paint can also cause this to happen. This of course is a concern, but also lead particles are an environmental danger and if care is not taken the lead particles remain in the soil around the home or in other areas of the home, long after any work on the house is completed.


Are You Renovating or Repainting?

If you are, great care needs to be taken with the paint removal process.  If you are a home owner or investor who intends to repaint or remove any lead based paint on your property then care needs to be taken for the sake of your family or anyone else in the area.

Lead based paint is most likely to be found on window frames, doors, skirting boards, kitchen and bathroom cupboards, exterior walls, gutters, metal surfaces and fascias.  Places like railings are hazardous to the health of children because they will often lean on it and chew it.    Any red or pink primer will contain lead and should not be disturbed.


The greatest danger from lead based paint comes during the removal process.  Sanding, blasting, burning, dry scraping, dry sanding or the use of power tools are all dangerous methods of removing lead based paint.  Only a licensed lead certified contractor (check with your State Government’s Department of Housing for guidelines) should undertake repainting or sanding of lead-based paint.

It is possible to purchase Lead Test Kits (Google Lead Test Kits for suppliers and retailers) so if you own an older home or are thinking of renovating one, it would pay to check the paint lead content.  As a general rule, the older the house, the greater the lead content in the paint used.

For more information on how to approach a renovation project involving lead paint, you can get a free booklet ‘Lead Alert – The Six Step Guide to Painting your Home’ Third Edition, available free online at www.environment.gov.au or from the Department of the Environment by phoning 1800 803 772.

Lead Poisoning from Water

There is a possibility that someone could get lead poisoning from household water, but in fact lead pipes have rarely been used in construction since 1930. 

Where there is still a small concern today is the fact that the copper piping is being held together with lead based solder.  In 1989 legislation was changed to ban the use of lead based solder on drinking water pipes in Australia – The Australian Standard AS 3500 Part 1.2 (1998) ‘National Plumbing and Drainage – Water Supply – Acceptable Solutions’.
The maximum acceptable level of lead or heavy metals in drinking water is 0.01 mg/L. 

Two suggestions for protecting yourself are :
1. take a water sample and send it to a laboratory for testing, and
2. flush your pipes before drinking water in the morning.  It takes approx. 10 litres, or one minute, to flush the pipes so this is not really a sustainable solution.  Mind you perhaps having a shower first is the answer.

The Bottom Line

When undertaking a renovation project, or even a simple repaint job, consider what you are working with and how you are going to approach the job with care and safety.