Watch out for lead when renovating
Lead dust builds up over many years in places that are unused and hard to access, like roof spaces, behind walls, as well as between and under floorboards. Working in these areas can spread lead dust around and expose everyone nearby to lead.
Lead paint was used in most homes built in Australia before 1970. Lead paint can be dangerous even before renovations start – for example when it chips off around windows and doors. Old paint can flake off in large pieces, or break down into smaller chips or dust. These dangers increase during renovations when old paint is removed from walls.
Sheet leading was used in older houses for damp courses, flashings, waterproof lining, gutters and cladding. The repair, removal and handling of sheet lead can be dangerous. Lead breaks down over time and if it’s disturbed during renovation, lead particles can easily spread and be inhaled or ingested.
Protecting yourself and others
When you’re renovating, there are simple steps you can take to avoid exposing yourself and others to lead.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women and young kids need to be kept away from renovations.
Always wear an AS-1716-approved respirator or mask fitted with P1 (dust) or P2 (dust and fumes) filters and coveralls. Simple paper masks may not fit well and do not protect against fine dust.
Once you’ve finished work for the day, shower and change your clothes before playing with the kids, and wash your work clothes separately from the other clothes.
Wash and dry your hands often, especially before eating and drinking. Avoid eating in the area where you’re working.
Lay plastic under the work area to protect the yard and any kids’ play areas.
Close windows and doors. Warn your neighbours so they can protect themselves if dust blows their way.
Seal the area off from the rest of the house by covering surfaces with plastic and tape. Remove household items or cover them with plastic. When demolishing, use water to dampen surfaces first.
When working in a roof space, make sure that lead dust does not fall into living areas below. It is recommended you contact a member of the Australian Dust Removalists Association who is trained to safely remove ceiling dust, using a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuum cleaner. A list of members can be found at www.adra.com.au.
Painting or removing paint
It’s recommended you hire a professional trained and qualified in safe lead paint work practices to remove old paint. If you do it yourself, wet sanding and wet scraping are the safest methods of preparing a surface for painting or removing old lead paint. If the paint is in good condition leave it alone or paint over it.
Don’t use open-flamed torches on lead paint as it creates lead fumes. If you use a heat gun, use it on the lowest setting, wear an approved mask or respirator and don’t stay in one spot for too long.
After you’ve finished, do not sweep or use your household vacuum cleaner. Use an industrial or HEPA vaccuum cleaner that’s not used for day to day or household vaccuuming. Wet-wash and wipe the entire work area and all hard surfaces, including furniture, window sills and skirting boards with a phosphate detergent (e.g. liquid sugar soap) and then rinse with clean water. Rinse mops and cloths to avoid spreading lead. Use a water spray bottle to wet down dust and debris on plastic sheeting or old carpet and fold or roll inwards.
Seal renovation collected waste in heavy-duty plastic sheets or bags and dispose at an approved part of the local waste facility. Do not burn painted wood.