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Removing Lead Based Paint In The Home


Many Canadians are choosing to renovate their homes rather than move to new ones. Besides making good economic sense, renovating can be a very rewarding experience.

However, older homes may contain lead­based paint. Removing or disturbing old lead­based paint as part of a renovation project can expose people in your home to a health risk. So, before you take out the sander, or circular saw, or paint stripping equipment, there are some things you should know about disturbing or removing paint.

Health effects of lead exposure

We ve known for a long time that lead is hazardous to health. Scientists now realize that even small amounts of lead can be harmful, especially to infants and young children. In addition, lead taken in by the mother can interfere with the health of the unborn child.

Children are particularly at risk because they absorb lead more easily than adults do. They are developing rapidly, and are more susceptible to the health hazards of lead. Children also absorb a higher proportion of lead from other sources (food, water and dust, for example) than adults. Contaminated dust is a particularly important source of exposure for babies and small children because they can ingest a significant amount of dust through their natural habit of putting things in their mouths.

The degree of lead poisoning varies depending on the amount of lead we are exposed to, and for how long. Studies show that prolonged exposure of children to even very small amounts of lead is serious. Depending on the level of exposure, lead can cause anemia, impair the functions of the brain and nervous system, and can result in learning disabilities and an inability to concentrate.

Does my home contain lead­based paint?

If your home was built before 1960, it was likely painted with a lead­based paint. Most paints made before 1950 contained large amounts of lead. In fact, some paint made in the 1940 s contained up to 50 per cent lead by dry weight. Lead was used to make paint dry quickly and wear well, and to make the colours vibrant. The amount and kind of lead varies in different types of paint.

You can find out the level of lead in your paint by scientific testing. Some large Canadian cities have contractors using X­ray fluorescence (XRF) equipment to sense for lead on surfaces. If so, this would be your most economical means of testing for an extensive renovation.

Otherwise, have the paint analyzed at a laboratory certified by the Standards Council of Canada or the Canadian Association for Environmental Analytical Laboratories for the analysis of lead in paint. One procedure is to measure and outline a 2 cm by 2 cm section of the wall to be tested. Remove all paint and even some of the plaster in this area and send it in a plastic bag for analysis of total lead mass. Ask for your results in milligrams (mg) of lead. Divide this result by 4 cm2 to get an answer in mg/cm2. For instance, if the lab tells you that you have 12 mg of lead in your sample, then 12 mg/4 cm2. With a result under 1 mg/cm2 require that you take precautions to keep children and pregnant women away from the site.

Amount of paint above 5 mg/cm2 mean that your house is heavily leaded and that, in addition to the above mentioned precautions, you may need qualified professional help to keep low lead levels in the house during and following renovation.

Since the 1950 s, the use of lead has been more common in exterior paint than interior paint. Between 1950 and 1976, the use of lead in paints decreased significantly. Owners of homes built after 1980 need not be concerned about lead levels in interior paints. All post­1992 consumer paint produced in Canada or the U.S. is virtually lead­free.

If there is lead­based paint in my home, should I remove it?

Lead­based paint doesn t present a health hazard as long as the paint is not chipping or flaking, and isn t where it can be chewed by young children, for example, on window sills, older painted cribs and toys, etc. In fact, removing old paint can sometimes result in a more immediate hazard than simply leaving the painted area intact.

Sanding sends a cloud of paint dust and scatters paint chips through the entire house. Dust from lead­based paint can contaminate the air you breathe, everything you touch, and any food that is exposed. Paint chips might be eaten by young children. Heat guns and blowlamps vaporize the paint, and can fill the air with leaded fumes. These fumes, and paint dust can migrate out­of­doors, spreading the lead to soils and gardens, and contributing to the build up of lead throughout the environment.

To lessen any chance of exposure to leaded­paint, surfaces that are still in good condition can be covered with vinyl wallpaper, wallboard or panelling. In areas that children can t reach, applying one or more coats of non­leaded paint to old but intact surfaces will help.

And if I decide to remove the paint?

NO CONTACT A PROFESSIONAL CONTRACTOR PRIOR TO COMMENCING ANY REMOVALS BY ANY METHODS The Torbo Wet Abrasive Blasting Technique is new technology being widely used throughout United States and Europe. The usual methods of removing paint involve sanding or using a heat gun or blowlamp, or chemical paint strippers.

Sanding, heat guns and blowlamps should not be used to remove lead­based paint for the reasons mentioned above.

The safest way to remove lead­based paint on doors or trim is to have the wood stripped off­site, either professionally or outside in a well­ventilated space. For walls, ceilings, or immovable trim, chemical strippers are perhaps the best solution. Application strippers, which consist of a paste applied with a brush, are best. However, all chemical paint strippers contain potentially harmful substances, so care must be taken when using them. Not all strippers are equally good for removing paint from the same materials ­­ read the manufacturer s instructions carefully. There are some very effective dust­collecting sanders or media blasters (e.g., plastic bead blasting) that are coming on the market. Keep an eye out for these as an alternative, but make sure that they can guarantee a dust­free work environment.

Safe practices to follow

No matter which method you choose to remove old paint, and regardless of whether the paint is on the inside or outside of your home, there are some very important rules to follow.

Contact your local Ministry of Labour office or Ontario Government Book Store for information on proper Type 3 operational Proceduires to remove Lead Based Paint and discuss what Method you will be using.

  • Extensive renovation can pose hazards to anyone s health. Pre­school children and pregnant women are especially susceptible to leaded dust. They should limit their exposure as much as possible.

  • Remove as much of the furnishings from the work area as possible. Furniture and carpets that can t be removed should be covered completely with plastic sheeting. Hepa Vacuums required. Isolate the work area to prevent the spread of scrapings, chips and particles of paint to other parts of the house. This can be done by covering doorways and vents with plastic sheeting and tape.

  • If you develop breathing problems, dizziness, nausea or headaches while working with paint strippers, get outdoors into fresh air. Before starting work, make sure the room is properly ventilated. Check with local building officials. You can contaminate your property and house if removed improperly! Place a fan blowing out of an open window to promote adequate ventilation. If possible, first apply stripper to the area nearest the fan and then gradually further away so that, as the solvent evaporates, the fumes head toward the fan and not past your nose.

  • Always wear goggles and gloves when using paint strippers. If stripper gets on your skin, wash it off right away, and remove any clothing on which the stripper has spilt. Use a good quality breathing mask designed for use with organic chemicals. These can be purchased at specialized paint or safety equipment outlets. It s a good idea to keep a pair of coveralls and work shoes to wear only in the work area. Wash all work clothes separately from other clothing.

  • Work for only about 10 minutes at a time and then take a break outside in the fresh air.

  • Never eat, drink or smoke while removing paint.

  • Keep all sources of ignition, including anything that might cause a spark or static electricity, out of the work area ­ many strippers are flammable. Not near Gas furnaces, appliances open flames.

  • Clean the work area thoroughly at the end of each day.

  • Collect paint scrapings and chips and place them in a sealed container clearly marked Lead­containing paint scrapings ­ Hazardous Waste. Wipe the entire work area with a clean damp cloth, and discard the cloth when you re done. In many parts of Canada, special arrangements exist for the disposal of hazardous household wastes. Paint scrapings should not be discarded with the garbage. To find out how to dispose of old paint strippings, contact either your local municipality, or the local office of the provincial Ministry of the Environment.

Consider professional help

CALL RESTORATION ENVIRONMENTAL CONTRACTORS As mentioned previously, another option is to have professionals do the job either in your home, or remove the woodwork for stripping at their shop. If you hire professionals to remove the paint in your home, make sure they follow the advice given here ­ the method of stripping, proper ventilation, cleaning up, etc. Call Restoration Environmental Contractors about our new Torbo Wet Abrasive Blasting System..

How can people be checked for lead?

Through a simple blood test, your family physician can determine how much lead you have been exposed to. For further information, contact your physician or the Poison Information Centre in your area.

What is the government doing to reduce exposure to lead?

The federal government is working to limit all sources of lead exposure to Canadians (for example, removing lead from gasoline, controlling industrial emissions, removing lead from pipe solder).

In 1976, the Hazardous Products Act limited the amount of lead in interior paint to 0.5 per cent by weight. Over the years, the amount of lead in paint has continued to decrease due to cooperative efforts of government and industry. At the recommendation of the Canadian Paint and Coatings Association (CPCA), the national trade association for Canada s paint manufacturers, has recommended that the Canadian paint industry voluntarily stop using any lead compounds in consumer paints by the end of 1990.

September 1, 1995



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