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Removing lead-based paint
Lead may come from a number of sources. The biggest source of non-occupational exposure to lead is lead-based paint.Until 1965, many paints on the New Zealand market had high lead levels. This was particularly true of pre-1945 paints.
Even if a building has been recently painted, it may have been painted with lead-based paints or have layers of old paint covered by modern paint.
Today only special-purpose paints contain lead, and these are clearly labelled.
It’s not possible to tell lead-based paints by their appearance, but there is a simple test that can detect whether the paint is a health risk. If a building was built in the 1980s or earlier, it is best to presume that it has been painted with lead-based paint. Contact the health protection officer in your local public health unit if you are unsure.
Untreated lead poisoning in both adults and children can cause brain damage and can even be fatal.
Children, especially pre-schoolers, are particularly at risk from lead poisoning. Small children may swallow paint chips and contaminated soil, especially when playing outdoors. Their hands, toys or food may be contaminated and the lead swallowed when they are playing or eating. Contaminated soil can be brought indoors by animals or on people’s clothes and shoes.
Many adults and children with lead poisoning will have either very vague or non-specific symptoms such as:
Children who may have no obvious symptoms can still suffer some brain damage over a period of time.
If your child has more severe symptoms, such as weakness or difficulty walking, get medical attention as soon as you can.
If you think your child may have been exposed to paint dust, flakes of old paint, soil with paint dust in it, or may have chewed some old paint, ask your doctor to check your child’s blood lead level.
Pets often show symptoms of lead poisoning before people. If your pet is unwell, and a vet diagnoses lead poisoning, have a doctor check all members of your household for lead poisoning.
Health and safety
The Health and Safety at Work Act requires employers to provide a safe working environment for employees. Employees and self-employed people are also required to protect themselves and others from harm. This includes contractors.
Removing lead-based paint from a building can cause harm to both the person doing the job and the people in the building. Young children who may swallow lead flakes are especially at risk. Unborn children can also be affected when the mother has lead poisoning and the lead is passed to the baby across the placenta.
Take precautions to reduce the risk of lead poisoning.
Safety points for removing lead-based paint
Whatever method you use for removing lead-based paint, always take the following precautions.
Protecting yourself while removing lead-based paint
Methods of removing paint
Wet sanding: This is the preferred option to reduce dust.
Ensure that any residue is cleaned up.
Ensure any debris is collected and the area cleaned up.
Abrasive blasting: Check any Work Safe New Zealand or regional council requirements.
Not to be used for properties and structures built or painted before 1970 or for boats because of the lead content of the paint and the large amounts of uncontrolled dust generated.
Blasting with heat: An electric paint stripper, hot air blower or blow torch will heat the paint and blister it, so that it can be scraped off.
Wear a toxic dust respirator if using a hot air blower, blow torch or electric paint stripper.
Chemicals: Usually used for small surfaces such as window frames.
Wear safety glasses, overalls and gloves to avoid contact with the skin.
Dry sanding by hand or machine: The machines include orbital sanders, disc grinder sanders, pistol grip disc sanders and belt sanders. They will generate large amounts of dust.
If you use any type of machine, wear a toxic dust respirator. This is important even when using a belt sander with an extraction bag (only partially effective).
Waterblasting: For outside surfaces.
Clean up paint flakes. Use water to flush debris to a collection point for disposal.
Effect of lead on the garden
Vegetables and fruit grown in soil contaminated by lead-based paint are safe to eat as long as they are carefully washed to remove dust and soil from the leaves on the outside of the plant.
If safety precautions haven’t been taken, soil may be contaminated and the top layer may need to be removed.
If you need information on occupational safety and health matters, freephone WorkSafe New Zealand on 0800 030 040, or visit the WorkSafe website.
If you require information on technical aspects of painting, contact the representative of a paint manufacturer.
If you need further information on lead poisoning, contact a health protection officer in the public health unit of your local DHB.