Lead-Based Paint: Identification, Risks, and Remediation

Until 1965, many paints on the market contained high levels of lead. In the mid-60s the health risks that lead posed became more fully understood and oil-based paint containing red lead was banned, however it wasn’t until 1979 when the use of white lead in paint finally came to an end. Today the ramifications of this are still being felt, posing risks to contractors, occupants and neighbours of homes affected.  


What is Lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small quantities within the earth’s crust. While it has some beneficial uses, it is highly toxic to humans and animals when ingested and causes lead poisoning which can be a potentially fatal condition.  

Flaking paint


What is the risk?

Lead-based paint is the leading cause of lead poisoning in the home and any home older than 25 years old should be assumed to have been painted with lead-based paint. Children, especially pre-schoolers, are particularly at risk from lead poisoning because they may swallow bits of paint that contain lead or soil that has been contaminated.

Child touching lead based paint

While modern paints can still contain traces of the element, they only do so in such small quantities that the risks are negligible to humans and animals. However, the levels of lead that were present in older paints were high enough to pose a very serious danger to human and animal health.

Unfortunately, the risk of lead-based paint does not go away with the passage of time. If it’s still on your walls, it’s still a problem. Even if it is covered over with modern, safe layer of paint, if this deteriorates or is damaged then it will expose the danger lying beneath.



How to identify it?

It is impossible to identify lead based paint from it appearance. 

testing for lead

Even where a home has been freshly painted, caution should be taken if you’re renovating or sanding as there may be old layers of paint hidden below.

The best way to test for traces of lead based paint is by using 5% sodium sulphide solution. This is most commonly sold in paint shops and trade stores. To perform the test, you will need to cut into and expose the deepest layer of paint and apply a drop of the sodium sulphide. If the solution turns a brown or black colour, it means that lead is present.

It is important to note, that when dealing with a rental property, regulations stipulate that the landlord must assume that lead paint is present if it was built prior to 1980, unless they have records or test results to prove otherwise, and all maintenance needs to be carried out with this assumption in mind.


How to deal with it?

Where lead based paint has been identified, you have two options:

If the paint is in good condition, meaning it has not visibly deteriorated and is not flaking away at all, it may be appropriate to apply an overcoat of a non-hazardous surface coating. This is not a permanent solution to the problem, but would be safer than an improperly carried out removal job.

However if the lead based paint is showing any signs of deterioration at all, it is essential that the paintwork is safely removed in full, to prevent any risk of the dust or flakes from being ingested by humans or animals. This is the only way to completely eliminate the hazards of having lead based paint in your home, even if it is currently in good condition. The “Guidelines for the management of Lead-based paint” issued by the Ministry of Health sets out the process for removal and safety requirements and should be your first port of call.

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