Although we now know lead is highly poisonous and associated with a wide range of serious health problems, it was once used in a variety of products ranging from ceramics to even make-up! Due to its durability, ease to work with, and relative abundance, lead has been widely used in domestic homes and can often be found in the form of lead piping, lead dust that has accumulated in the ceiling and lead paint. Paint containing high levels of lead was commonly used to paint Australian homes up until 1970, however any home built before 1997 could contain lead paint. In 1992 the legal amount of lead in paint was limited to 0.25% and this was further reduced to 0.1% in 1997.
Lead paint is not an immediate danger if it is in good condition; however it becomes highly hazardous as soon as it is chipped or flaking. This is particularly common in areas of high friction, like door frames and window frames, but can also be caused by prolonged exposure to the elements.
Lead paint can all too easily be inhaled as flakes or dust if disturbed or incorrectly removed. Home renovators are at high risk as they often power sand or sand blast old lead paint without realising they are turning it into toxic lead dust.
Other activities that can cause lead to become a hazard include:
- Burning the lead paint off an affected surface
- Demolishing walls without first removing lead paint
- Removing or disturbing carpets contaminated with lead dust
- Replacing or maintaining pipes located in building cavities contaminated with lead dust
Overall, it is generally safer and cheaper to demolish a house containing lead paint then to renovate. Even minor repairs and renovations can risk disturbing the highly toxic lead paint.
Lead can lead to a variety of health problems caused by both short term or long term exposure. Because it builds up in the body, even exposure to small amounts of lead can cause serious negative health effects. Children and pregnant women are particularly at risk from exposure to lead.
Symptoms of a high level of exposure at one time include:
- Pain in the abdominal area
- Sore muscles
Symptoms of low level exposure over a long period of time include:
- Stunted growth
- Fertility issues
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of kidney disease
Due to these health risks it is crucial that lead paint is removed safely by trained professionals. Like asbestos removal, the lead remuneration process is time consuming and must be performed under controlled conditions in order to prevent the spreading of lead chips and to prevent lead dust becoming airborne. Once materials contaminated with lead are removed from the house they are disposed of at a special treatment facility. Lead monitoring services can also be undertaken to ensure all lead dust is removed and the site is clear of any lead residue.