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Advice on lead paint in your home

Are you redecorating? Is your paintwork safe?
Yes, if it's used and treated properly.  Look out for lead in old paint in your home.

What's the problem?

  • We all know that too much lead in our bodies is bad for us.  Over the last 20 years or so, we've done a lot to get rid of it in this country and cases of lead poisoning are now rare.
  • But old paint is one particular source of lead that you may still come across in your home.
  • Up until the mid-1960's, lead was used to make some kinds of paint - for windows, doors and other woodwork as well as for some metal items, like radiators. A few minor uses continued until the 1980's.

How will I know if there's lead in my paintwork?

  • The age of your home is a good guide.  If it was built before the 1960's and still has original coats of paint, there could be some lead around.
  • Another clue is if your paintwork is quite thick - lead could be locked into the oldest layers.  That's not a problem if it's in good condition and you don't plan to redecorate.
  • Modern household paints do not contain added lead and are not dangerous.  So if your home is newer, there won't be any lead there.
  • If it has recently had a new coat of paint, this will probably have sealed any lead in.

Am I or my family at risk?

  • The people most at risk from lead are young children and pregnant women.
  • If you think the paintwork is likely to get knocked or chewed by young children or by pets, for example, or if it could be damaged in some other way that could release lead dust into your home, it would be best to sort it out now.
  • If you are planning any redecorating there are ways you can deal with lead paintwork safely.
  • If you think your home does have lead paintwork, especially if it's in bad condition, peeling or flaking - it's best to be on the safe side. So read on.

How can I make sure we're safe?

  • The easiest way of dealing with lead paintwork - if it's in good condition - is to seal it with an over coating of modern paint.
  • But if the paintwork is in bad condition and needs to be removed before you can redecorate, use methods that don't create dust or fumes, like a solvent or caustic-based liquid stripper.  Don't forget to follow the safety instructions if you do use solvents or liquid strippers, and remember that solvent-free, water-based paint removers are now available - ask your DIY dealer for details.
  • If you have to use a hot-air gun, use it just enough to soften the paint - don't burn it because this will give off fumes.  A good guide is to make sure your gun is set below 4500C.  Keep surfaces moist when removing paint.
  • Wear protective clothes, gloves and a good quality face mask with a filter conforming to EN143 P2.  Shut off the work area and don't let other members of your family in, especially children or pregnant women.  If possible, remove furniture and carpets; otherwise cover them completely.
  • When you break from the work, store the clothes you've been wearing safely (perhaps in a sealed plastic bag) and wash your hands and any other bare skin before you do anything else.
  • When you've taken most of the paint off, moisten the surface and smooth it with a waterproof abrasive paper - don't use sandpaper.
  • When you've finished, put the paint you've removed and any collected on coverings in a safe container - a sealed plastic bag will do - and put it out with the rubbish.
  • Clean the room you've been working in and any coverings used with water and detergent.  If you need to get rid of any dust after decorating, you may have to use an industrial standard vacuum cleaner (complying with British Standard 5415), and wash the clothes you've been working in separately from any others.

What next?

  • If you're not sure you can deal with the paintwork safely by yourself, call in a professionally qualified firm of decorators - you can find out who they are from one of the associations representing decorating contractors.
  • If you would like more advise or information, contact the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ashdown House, 123 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6DE. Telephone 020 7082 8099
    Or consult their website at: www.defra.gov.uk/environment/chemicals/lead/index.htm

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