Health risks: Lead

Lead-based paint is the main source of exposure to lead in older houses. Lead was used in villas in external and internal paintwork, flashings, valley gutters, heads to nails and waste pipes.

Care needs to be taken with all lead, although the greatest risk of lead poisoning is likely to come when paint residue containing lead is swallowed or fumes are inhaled. 

The effect of lead is cumulative – it builds up in the body. Symptoms may include tiredness, poor sleeping patterns, moodiness, lack of appetite, and stomach pains. In extreme cases, it can lead to brain damage and can even be fatal.

Lead-based paint 

If the renovation work on any house built prior to the mid 1960s involves removing many layers of paint from weatherboards or internal paintwork, there is a good chance that you will be dealing with lead paint in the older layers. Oil-based paints containing lead were commonly used until the mid-1960s when the health hazards of lead became more fully understood. 

The use of white lead in paint was banned in 1979. Some special-purpose paints still contain red lead. 

The removal of lead-based paint can result in harm to both the person removing the paint and people and pets in the vicinity. Young children are particularly at risk.

You can’t identify lead-based paint from its appearance. If a building is over 25 years old, assume that it has been painted with lead-based paint.

Because inhalation of dust and fumes is the principal way lead enters the body, do not let paint debris become airborne during removal or clean-up. Take the following precautions:

  • Use drop sheets. They should be fireproof if the paint is being burnt off.
  • Wet sand to reduce dust.
  • Fit a power sander with a vacuum dust bag.
  • Wear a dust mask at all times. 
  • Collect dust and debris as work proceeds and bag or contain in a suitable closed container (such as strong plastic bags). 
  • Dispose in a place approved by the local authority.