People renovating their homes often contact me regarding the dangers of lead-based paints in their homes.
Nobody is immune to the dangers of lead! The dangers are real but only if you don’t follow the rules!
The Truth about Lead-Based Paint
The debate around lead-based paint has become a very emotive issue. Claims have been made in the tabloid press that 60% of all paint sold in South Africa contains illegal levels of lead! This is not the truth!
Colour paints that contain lead pigment compounds are used worldwide. Some countries published guidelines for “safe” limits of lead in paint.
But, lead poisoning is real! Here are some facts about lead-based paints.
Learn about lead
Lead has accumulative (chronic) toxicity and can accumulate in the body.
Lead occurs naturally. Our bodies can deal with small amounts, simply excreting these. However, if the intake is excessive, over time the lead will accumulate in the body.
Metabolic differences affect lead absorption
The same amount of ingested or inhaled lead affects adults and children differently. Children are generally affected more severely, e.g. irreversible nervous system damage and decreased intelligence. Furthermore, this can happen even with low doses.
Curiosity can be a killer
Small children will often put objects with lead-based paints in their mouths because of their sweet taste. This has led to the death of many children.
Lead is soluble
Lead is highly soluble (even in water). Furthermore, lead compounds dissolved by acid in the stomach cause toxic harm. Lead crystal glasses, for instance, are not soluble, even in water, therefore causing no harm. As a result, lead solubility in acid determines the danger level of a lead compound.
It is not the lead in paint that is dangerous, but rather the soluble lead compounds in the paint.
Manufacturers and lead-based paint
Some years ago (2013) manufacturers belonging to the South African Paint Manufacturers Association (SAPMA) indicate that 0.01% is the suitable limit of lead-based paints in line with government legislation.
However, only 65% of the paint manufacturing industry are members of SAPMA since membership of the Association is voluntary. As a result, no one knows what the remaining 35% of paint manufacturers have been doing!
The use of lead is so widespread that very few products are lead-free. Therefore, most manufacturers use the term ‘No added lead’. Such paints can generally be used safely, but should not be used on children’s toys, or objects used by children.
This also means that homes painted in 2013 and before may contain dangerous levels of soluble lead compounds. Furthermore, the older the home the greater the possibility of it containing excessive amounts of lead in the paint.
In 2017, after fourteen years of constant pressure from SAPMA, the government agreed to ban all lead in paint.
Lead in paint stabilises bright colours
Primers and undercoats contain lead-based pigments. They are the best way of ensuring stable, bright and durable paint colours. Furthermore, this applies especially to yellow, red and green.
Lead is all around us
Exhaust fumes have deposited large amounts in the flora. Plantlife then absorbs the lead which is introduced into the food chain. In addition, lead content is greater in gold mining and uranium extraction areas.
Where is Lead Found?
Older homes are more likely to have lead-based paint exceeding 600 ppm. However, the lead content in paint has been limited since 2013, in line with the new legislation.
Lead is found:
- In homes in the city, country and suburbs;
- On apartments, single-family homes, and both private and public housing complexes;
- On the interior and exterior of the house;
- In the soil around a home. Soil can pick up lead from exterior paint and other sources, e.g. past use of leaded gas in cars;
- In household dust. Dust can pick up lead from deteriorating lead-based paint and from soil tracked into the home;
- In drinking water. Your home might have plumbing that uses lead pipes or lead solder. Call your local health department or water supplier to find out about testing your water. You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and boiling water does not remove it. If you think your plumbing might have lead in it: 1) Use only cold water for drinking and cooking. 2) Run water for 15 to 30 seconds if you have not used your water for a few hours;
- At work. If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. Shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your work clothes separately;
- In old (vintage or antique) painted toys and furniture;
- From lead smelters and other industries that release lead into the air;
- With hobbies that use lead, such as making pottery or stained glass, or refinishing furniture.
To determine the amount of lead in the paint in your home, trained professionals who test for lead will use a range of methods when checking your home;
- including a visual inspection of paint condition and location;
- lab tests of paint samples; and
- Surface-dust tests.
DIY testing kits are not readily available in South Africa. Furthermore, of all the test kits available worldwide, only two kits are recommended by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). These are 3M LeadCheck and D-Lead. Moreover, laboratory testing is expensive.
I advise my clients not to waste time and money on the testing for lead in paint. Rather assume that a house built before 2013 will have lead in paint exceeding the limits. I advise them to take the necessary precautions when working and living with old painted surfaces.
What you can do about lead-based paint
- If you are painting over old paint you can safely do that, provided you don’t do anything to disturb the old paint (that means no sanding). In fact, covering lead paint with another layer of paint is safe remediation.
- When sanding or scraping off the old paint on doors, windows, ceilings and walls, ensure that you use safety equipment such as dust masks, eye protection, overalls, gloves and shoe protection booties.
- Cover as much of the floor as possible with spot sheets and remove curtains, furniture, carpets etc. from the work area.
- Vacuum up dust and paint chips immediately.
- Clean floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces. Use a mop, sponge or paper towel with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner. Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning the dusty areas.
- Pack up and clean the equipment and materials you have used at the end of each day and store them in a safe place.
- Isolate the work area where you are working. Prevent members of your family from entering the area until you have cleaned up.
- Wash children’s hands often, especially before they eat, and before nap time and bedtime.
- Keep play areas clean. Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys and stuffed animals regularly.
- Keep children from chewing window sills and other painted surfaces.
If you have followed steps 1 to 10, the lead that may be present in the paint of your house should not pose any danger to you or your family.
Adapted from an article by Jacks Paint
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