Renovating? Have you tested for lead paint?
DIY renovations are a cost-effective way to enhance your home. But did you know that some DIY activities can be hazardous to you, your family, pets and neighbours?
An often-forgotten hazard that could be lurking in your home is lead-based paint. If left alone, lead paint poses little risk if it remains in good condition or if it has been painted over. However, if lead paint is disturbed, it may become hazardous to you, your family and your surrounding environment.
Lead paint in your home
If your home was built before 1970, there’s good chance that it has lead-based paint. Lead from paint, including lead-contaminated dust, is one of the most common causes of lead poisoning. Lead paint becomes dangerous when it peels, chalks or flakes off the surface it is on. Paint chips or dust can then be ingested by children and pets, and fine dust particles can be breathed in. Some types of home maintenance and renovation can disturb lead paint and be a potential health hazard for you, your family and neighbours. These hazards can be minimised with the right precautions and equipment.
Testing for lead
The simplest way to see if you have lead paint in your home is to do an instant lead test using a Lead Test Kit which can be purchased from most leading hardware stores. It is important to follow the instructions provided in the kit, and dispose of the test kit in your general household waste.
Lead paint may be hidden – if the top coat of paint returns a negative result for lead, the paint underneath (sometimes as pink primer undercoats) may contain lead – so test that paint too. You can do this by scraping off a paint chip from an area where it won’t be noticed.
I have lead paint in my home – what next?
If you have lead-based paint in your home, this shouldn’t stop you from renovating, but you must take precautions to ensure that you, your family, neighbours and pets are not exposed to lead dust or paint chips during and after the renovation. Assume paint in pre-1970 houses contains high levels of lead unless tests prove otherwise. Test paint in all parts of your home and yard before you start work. Buy a LEAD Group Kit, collect samples, and send them off for testing. Colour-change lead test kits are available at hardware stores, but are not as reliable as laboratory analysis.
If the paint is in good condition leave it alone or paint over it. Consider replacing painted components (e.g. doors, architraves, picture rails).
Hire a professional trained and qualified in safe lead paint work practices to remove old paint. If you remove it yourself take full precautions. Tell neighbours about the job and keep paint flakes and dust out of your neighbour’s property. You can protect yourself and your family by following some simple rules:
- sand or dry scrape or use a power sander or sandblaster
- remove paint on a wet or windy day
- use an open flame torch or high temperature heat gun
- eat, smoke or drink in the work area
- allow children, pregnant or nursing women in a house or area where lead-based paint is being disturbed.
- Do not sweep or use your domestic vacuum cleaner. Instead wet-wash the work area with a phosphate detergent and rinse with clean water.
- remove paint by using a wet scraping or wet sanding methods
- lay plastic sheeting under the work area to protect your garden or home
- use the right tools and equipment for the job
- protect yourself by using protective clothing such as coveralls, booties, hat and gloves
- wear a respirator (AS-1716-approved) if the work involves generating dust or fumes
- clean the work area thoroughly
- dispose of all waste in sealed plastic bags
- wash work clothes separately from other clothes
- For more information, refer to the EPA’s lead fact sheet on Lead Paint.
If you suspect that you or your family have been exposed to lead, visit your doctor for further advice. For more information regarding the health effects of lead please refer to the NHMRC Statement and Information Paper on the Health Effects of Lead at www.nhmrc.gov.au/health-topics/lead-blood-levels