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Working with lead-based paint

How do I know if there's lead-based paint?

Lead-based paint is most likely to be found on window frames, doors, skirting boards, kitchen and bathroom cupboards, exterior walls, gutters, metal surfaces and fascias on homes or structures built before 1970, or even interior walls.

Sometimes lead-based paint may be covered by more recently applied paint and becomes a workplace health and safety issue when the paint deteriorates and becomes powdery or flaky, or during paint removal.

  • Test all surfaces and layers of paint to be removed to determine if the paint contains lead as lead-based paint cannot be identified by its appearance.
  • A simple test kit available from some paint manufacturers and distributors can determine the presence of lead-based paint. Carefully read the manufacturer's instructions before using the test kit.
  • Test kits can give false results, so if the swab gives a negative reading, but the age of the house indicates that lead-based paint could have been used, assume that lead-based paint is present or have the paint tested by a laboratory. Some analytical laboratories can provide a precise analysis of lead presence and its concentration.
  • A list of accredited laboratories is available from the National Association of Testing Authorities for environmental lead testing.

Removal alternatives

If paint is in good condition there may be no need to remove it unless major renovation and comprehensive removal is planned. However, lead-based paint should be removed from areas that are likely to be chewed or licked by children, knocked or subject to friction.

Alternatives to paint removal include:

Painting over lead-based paint

  • Only paint over lead-based paint if surfaces are in good condition. If the paint is flaking or chalking, prepare the surface by a light wet sanding with wet-and-dry sandpaper to help the paint stick to the surface. Take care not to generate lead dust or contaminate the area with water from the wet-sanding process.
  • Painting over the paint is a temporary solution limited by the life of the paint.

Covering lead-based paint with other materials

  • Cover lead-based paint on exterior surfaces with durable materials, such as aluminium cladding or weatherboard and thoroughly seal all gaps.
  • Cover internal surfaces with durable materials that will not tear, chip or peel. These include plasterboard, vinyl wall coverings, wood panelling and floor coverings such as carpet, tiles or vinyl.

Safe removal methods

If you have decided to remove the paint, choose a safe removal method. Different ways of removing lead paint create different risks to health, which need to be properly controlled.

Safe methods include:

Wet scraping

Risk: Dust may be produced during the scraping process if paint is not wet properly, spreading flakes of paint around the worksite.

Control:

  • Wear a half face respirator with P2 particulate filter during removal and clean up.
  • Use a plastic drop sheet that has the edges raised with wooden studs to collect water.
  • Collect paint debris properly.

Chemical strippers

Risk: Some strippers contain flammable solvents which can burn the skin or produce vapours that are highly toxic. Even after chemical stripping has been done, sanding after this method may still produce lead dust.

Control:

  • Wear a half face respirator for organic vapours, safety glasses, overalls and chemically resistant gloves. If further sanding is required after applying a chemical stripper, wear a combined particulate and organic vapour filtration cartridge respirator.
  • Consult the Safety Data Sheets for further information.
  • Ensure windows and doors are open.

Wet hand sanding

Risk: Dust may be produced if paint is not wet properly before sanding. Fine lead residue is left after water dries.

Control:

  • Wear a half face respirator with P2 particulate filter during removal and clean up.
  • Use plastic drop sheet that has the edges raised with wooden studs to collect water.
  • Wash down surfaces carefully.

Low-temperature heat processes

Risk: This method is unlikely to produce lead fume unless the paint smokes from too much heat being applied. Dust may also be produced during the scraping process if the paint has started to reharden.

Control:

  • Wear a half face respirator with P2 particulate filter if smoke is present. Toxic fumes can be generated at temperatures as low as 200ºC and heat guns should be controlled to ensure that this temperature is not exceeded.
  • Scrape softened paint directly into a disposable container before it rehardens to avoid having to sand or scrape to clean it up.

Dry power sanding with HEPA vacuum attachment sanding

Risk: Lead dust may be generated if the shroud of the sander extends beyond the surface being sanded or if the sander is not kept flat on the surface.

Control:

  • Training and experience.

How to set up the site

Working on the exterior

  • Complete exterior work before doing the interior. Remove any lead dust in the house generated by exterior work during the interior clean up.
  • Cover the ground and vegetation with plastic sheeting extended two metres from the base of the house and an additional metre for each storey to catch dust and debris.
  • Use impervious materials such as tarpaulin or plastic sheeting to prevent dust from travelling to neighbouring properties. Attach the tarpaulin to house guttering at the top and to the plastic ground sheet at the bottom.
  • Use bricks or rocks to hold the edges of the plastic sheeting in place and place wooden studs under the edges of the sheeting to contain liquid.
  • Close windows and doors to prevent dust from entering the building.
  • Avoid working in windy conditions, as the lead dust and paint might be blown off the plastic sheeting as it dries.
  • Move play equipment and personal belongings away from the work area and cover sandpits.
  • Advise the neighbours to close windows and doors while exterior work is being done, move play equipment away from the boundary fence and cover their own sandpits.
  • Exclude all others from the work area, especially pregnant women, children and pets.

Working on the interior

  • Remove furniture, rugs, curtains, food, clothing and other household items.
  • Cover the floor with disposable double plastic sheeting and tape the sheeting to the skirting boards. Dispose of the top sheet with the debris.
  • Keep the bottom sheet in place during the wash down.
  • Cover or temporarily remove carpet to prevent it becoming contaminated with lead dust. Lead dust is difficult to remove from carpet, even with a HEPA vacuum cleaner. Carpet exposed to chalking or flaking paint may need to be replaced.
  • Cover openings, such as gaps around pipes and between floorboards, immovable surfaces such as counter-tops and shelves with plastic sheeting and heavy duty tape to prevent dust from entering.
  • Tape around the door seals of refrigerators.
  • Turn off forced-air heating and air conditioning. Cover and seal doors and air ducts for heating and cooling systems.
  • Cover entrances to the work area with two lengths of plastic sheeting which overlap each other in the middle. Tape the outside edges at the top and sides to the door jambs.
  • Close the windows unless using a torch or open flame or chemical strippers.
  • Use exhaust fans when using chemical strippers indoors.
  • Repair or replace torn sheets immediately.
  • Exclude all others from the work area, especially pregnant women, children and pets.

How to clean the site

  • Remain in protective clothing, including gloves and respirator when cleaning the site.
  • Place large disposable items including the plastic sheet and other debris into tough plastic bags.
  • Vacuum all surfaces including the tarpaulin used for exterior work with a suitable commercial vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter.
  • Wet-clean hard surfaces using a carpet steam cleaner or by wet mopping several times. Put dust into tough sealable plastic bags. Alternatively, some contract cleaning services offer an effective chemical method of removing lead dust.
  • Do not use a broom, compressed air or a vacuum cleaner without a HEPA filter as it will spread lead dust.
  • Use a spray bottle to wet down all dust and debris lying on the plastic sheeting before taking them up.
  • Wipe down all surfaces in the work areas with a damp cloth.
  • Wash the area with 25 grams of 5% trisodium phosphate (TSP) in five litres of hot water or sugar soap. Renew the solution frequently to prevent it becoming contaminated.
  • Dispose of cloths and mops to avoid spreading lead dust during cleaning.
  • Vacuum dry surfaces such as skirting boards, architraves, window sills, casings, shelves and counter-tops until no dust or residue remains.
  • Dampen dusty outside areas with spray from a garden hose and sweep and collect debris. Avoid dry sweeping since it spreads lead dust.
  • Shovel paint debris into heavy duty plastic bags.
  • Remove the top layer of contaminated soil and put into tough sealable plastic bags.
  • Clean tools with TSP solution or sugar soap.
  • Clean respirators after use and store them in a container away from the lead source.
  • Remove contaminated clothing before leaving the work area and place clothes in a plastic bag until washed.
  • Clean up the site frequently throughout the day and vacuum at the end of each day.

How to dispose of lead contaminated waste

  • Place lead-containing debris into deflated heavy duty plastic bags and seal them.
  • Pour lead-contaminated water generated as a result of wet scraping or sanding, or during clean-up, into a strong, securely sealed container.
  • Provide short-term secure storage.
  • Transport debris and solid waste materials containing lead to waste systems.
  • Check with the waste management section of the local council about proper waste disposal.
  • Ensure that all bulky items are covered during transportation.

The lead paint removal/residential buildings audit checklist (PDF, 303.1 KB) and the lead audit checklist (PDF, 318.81 KB) will help you identify and control the risks of working with lead.

Last updated
04 April 2017

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