Lead is a toxic substance that can pose a health risk to people of any age, and is especially harmful to pregnant women, children and unborn babies. It accumulates in the human body, and therefore even small amounts can be hazardous.
Up until 1965, paints containing high levels of lead were used in many Australian houses and constructions. Because exposure to lead poses a health hazard even in small amounts, dust or chips of paint that are disturbed during home renovations can be dangerous, so it’s vital to check whether the existing paint you’re working with contains lead before beginning any kind of construction or redecoration project.
How is lead paint dangerous?
Paint containing lead is only dangerous if it’s damaged or disturbed, so it’s important to note that if your lead paint is not flaking or chalking, or is covered by well-maintained paint that doesn’t contain lead, it’s not considered a hazard in itself.
Lead paint becomes hazardous when it’s found on surfaces that are subject to friction or impact, such as windows and doors, as this is more likely to be disturbed and generate dust or chips. It’s also dangerous when it covers railings or other surfaces that children can chew.
If lead paint isn’t handled properly, hazardous dust and paint chips may become present in your home and garden, and can be incredibly difficult to remove fully. If removed or damaged using methods such as blasting, burning, dry scraping, dry sanding or with power tools, tiny particles can be released and then inhaled, or deposited into carpets and other furnishings.
How can I identify lead paint?
The only way to know for sure whether old paint contains lead is by having it tested. Lead paint cannot be identified by its appearance alone. Sometimes, it may also be covered by more recently applied paint.
Simple lead paint testing kits are available from some paint manufacturers and distributors, and can help you determine the presence of lead-based paint in your home. However, these have the potential to return false results, so if your paint tests negative for lead but the age of your house (ie if it was built before 1970) indicates that lead paint is still likely to be present, it’s best to get it tested professionally by a laboratory.
How can I remove lead paint safely?
First and foremost, lead paint should only be removed by a qualified and experienced professional. While an experienced home renovator may be able to repaint over existing lead paint without posing a health hazard to themselves or their family, the removal of lead paint is considerably more dangerous and should only be handled by an expert.
If your lead paint is in good condition, i.e. it isn’t chipping or flaking, there may be no need to remove it unless you’re planning major renovations that would disturb it. Of course, the exception is where the lead paint is present in areas that may be subject to friction or impact, or likely to be licked or chewed by children.
If removal isn’t needed, you have a couple of alternatives:
Painting over it
You should only paint over lead paint if the surface is in good condition. Remember also that this is only a temporary solution, and will only last for as long as the life of the new paint.
Covering it with other materials
If the lead paint is on an exterior surface, you can cover it with durable materials such as aluminium cladding or weatherboard. Ensure that the materials you choose will not tear, chip or teel, and that all gaps are thoroughly sealed.
If removal is required, there are a range of safe methods that may be considered. Different lead paint removal methods pose different health risks. The most common methods and their associated risks are:
The paint must be properly wet to ensure that dust and flakes are not produced and spread.
Many chemical strippers contain flammable solvents which may damage the skin or produce toxic vapours that can be inhaled. Additionally, sanding after chemical stripping has been done may still produce lead dust.
If the paint is not properly wet, dust may be produced, and fine lead residue is also left after the water dries.
Low temperature heat processes are used to soften the paint prior to scraping, but may produce dust if the paint starts to reharden during the scraping process. Additionally, if too much heat is applied, the paint may smoke and generate lead fumes.
Dry sanding with HEPA vacuum attachment
A vacuum attachment is used to contain the lead paint during removal, however dust may be generated if the equipment isn’t positioned or used properly.
In all instances, heavy duty personal protective equipment (including protective clothing and a respirator) must be worn, and measures must be taken to protect the surrounding surfaces and environment from contamination. After removal, lead paint debris and contaminated waste such as cloths, sheets and water must also be disposed of securely and thoroughly.
Lead paint removal services in Sydney and NSW
At Perfect Contracting, we are fully licenced and insured to carry out the removal of lead paint from residential dwellings and other buildings. We can remove lead paint from any construction throughout Sydney and New South Wales, and will do so quickly and thoroughly, with the greatest care for safety and the environment. If you’re needing to remove lead paint from your home or building, contact us today to discuss how we can help.