In the last 20 years, a lot has been done in the UK to remove the risks from lead exposure, but there is still a significant amount of lead paint in older buildings. Up until the mid-1960s, lead was used to make some kinds of paint – for windows, doors and other woodwork, as well as for some metal items, like radiators. A few minor uses continued until the 1980s.
Lead exposure can have serious health consequences, ranging from anaemia, to kidney damage, brain damage, and even death. The groups most vulnerable to lead exposure are children and pregnant women, but severe or ongoing exposure can be damaging to anyone. Therefore it is important to know how to deal with lead paint correctly.
When are you most at risk?
When the work you are doing produces lead dust, fume or vapour you are most at risk. This may include:
- blast removal and burning of old lead paint;
- stripping of old lead paint from doors, windows etc;
- hot cutting in demolition and dismantling operations;
- scrap-processing activities, including recovering lead from scrap and waste;
- some painting of buildings; some spray-painting of vehicles;
- working with metallic lead and alloys containing lead, eg soldering;
- lead smelting, refining, alloying and casting.
How do you make sure it’s safe?
The easiest way of dealing with lead paintwork thats in good condition is to seal it with a coat of modern paint. But if the paintwork is in bad condition and needs to be removed before you can repaint, use methods that don’t create dust or fumes, like a solvent or caustic-based liquid stripper.
Don’t forget to follow the safety instructions, and remember that solvent-free, water-based paint removers are now available. If you have to use a hot-air gun, use it just enough to soften the paint – don’t burn it, as this will produce fumes. A good guide is to ensure the gun is set below 450C. Keep surfaces moist when removing paint.
Wear protective clothes, gloves and a good quality face mask with a filter conforming to EN143 P2, and shut off the work area. If possible, remove furniture and carpets; otherwise cover them completely.
When you break from the work, store the clothes you’ve been wearing safely (e.g. in a sealed plastic bag) and wash your hands and any other bare skin before you do anything else.
When you’ve taken most of the paint off, moisten the surface and smooth it with a waterproof abrasive paper – don’t use sandpaper.
When you’ve finished, put the paint you’ve removed and any collected on coverings in a safe container, a sealed plastic bag will do, and dispose of it. Clean the room you’ve been working in and any coverings with water and detergent. If you need to get rid of any dust after decorating, you may have to use an industrial standard vacuum cleaner (complying with British Standard 5415), and wash the clothes you’ve been working in separately from any others.