Lead poisoning, especially in children, has been a major concern to Health and Welfare Canada since the early 1970’s. Lead in a person’s system either by inhalation or ingestion, can cause damage to the brain, the nervous system and the kidneys. Extreme exposure can cause blindness and even death.
The History of Lead Paint
Latex paint was developed in the 1970’s, before that time, lead based paint was preferred for it’s long wear and color. Nearly all homes built prior to 1950 and about 75% of the homes built before 1978, contain lead based paint.
Some paints manufactured before 1950, contained as much as 50% lead by weight. Later, other pigments were used, and the amount of lead was reduced dramatically, though it was still added to speed up the drying process and to act as a sealant.
In 1976, the Canadian government announced that the amount of lead in interior paint was limited to 0.5 % by weight. Most manufacturers have eliminated the use of lead completely. The American Environmental Protection Agency followed suit by banning the use of interior lead based paints in 1978. As of September 9, 1996, new U.S. Federal regulations require sellers and landlords to provide prospective buyers and renters, disclosure about lead conditions in the home. It is our opinion that Canada will soon be introducing similar legislation.
Children are much more vulnerable than adults where lead poisoning is involved, because their bodies are still developing and easily damaged. The greatest danger of lead poisoning is when the paint is chipped or starts peeling. Children tend to put the paint chips in their mouths.
Like carbon monoxide poisoning, lead poisoning often has no symptoms. Therefore, children living in older homes should have their blood lead level tested as early as 6 months and again at 12 and 24 months. A healthy blood lead level should be below 10 micrograms per tenth of a litre. Lead poisoning can cause a low IQ , attention problems, slow development and learning disabilities. As lead is ingested into the system, it is incorporated into the bones and other tissues. Very little of the lead is excreted, so even small doses can contribute to serious health problems. In extreme cases, lead poisoning can cause damage to a child’s kidneys, hearing, brain, and nervous system.
Risk is maximized to children and adults when homeowners attempt to remove the lead based paint without proper protection. Airborne lead dust has been the cause of many cases of lead poisoning in children as a result of their parents renovations.
Testing for Lead in Paint
Lab Testing: There are several ways to test for lead in paint. The most effective lab testing which includes taking 2″X2″ sample and having it tested layer by layer in an isolated test.
X-Ray and Fluorescent Testing: Portable detectors, used with the x-ray method, are placed on a painted surface and measure the amount of lead in the layers of paint. With this method, the paint surface is not disturbed.
The Swab Test: This is the least effective method of testing for lead in paints. A swab containing some chemicals is applied to the area and the color change is matched to a chart. The problem with this method is that the lead containing paint could be covered with several layers of paint and are sometimes hard to detect.
These are the most common areas where lead paint can be found.
Removal of Lead Based Paints
When possible, the most reliable means of removing lead based paint, is by abatement. This should be done by a professional and can cost on average, $7,500.00 for a single family home and the family should be removed while the work is being done. Be sure that you deal with qualified experts who are giving you professional service and sound advice.
- PROTECT YOUR FAMILY: Women who are pregnant should never be exposed to dust or fumes from paint removal. If paint dust can’t be contained, or if the whole house is being renovated, children and pregnant women should live elsewhere until the work is done.
- PROTECT YOURSELF: Wear coveralls, goggles, gloves and other protective clothing. Use an appropriate respirator. A paper mask does not provide adequate protection. Wash your hands whenever you leave the work area. Do not eat, drink, or smoke while stripping paint.
- PREPARE THE AREA: Remove rugs, drapes and furniture from the area. Objects that can’t be moved should be covered in plastic and taped down. Cover the floor with at least two layers of plastic. Seal heating vents. Cover windows and doors with plastic.
- USE SAFE STRIPPING TECHNIQUES: Heat sanding or sandblasting should never be used to remove lead based paint. Chemical strippers are preferred. However, these strippers may contain methylene chloride or other hazardous chemicals. Read the manufacturers instructions and take precautions. Keep the area well ventilated.
- CLEAN UP : At the end of each day, put waste in a secure container marked “Hazardous Waste”. When the work is completed, wait at least a day to let any dust settle, then do a final clean up. Wash all surfaces with a high phosphate detergent. Clean the basement and closets and any other areas where dust may settle. Vacuum thoroughly.
- DISPOSAL OF WASTE SAFELY: Lead based paint scrapings must be treated as hazardous waste. Contact your municipal waste treatment agency or the Ministry of the Environment of disposal instructions.