The removal of lead-based paint can result in harm to both the person removing the paint and people in the vicinity. Young children are particularly at risk from lead poisoning.

Until the mid-1960s when the health hazard of lead became more fully understood, lead pigments in oil-type binders were the most commonly used house paints in New Zealand.

The use of white lead in paint was banned in 1979, but some special-purpose paints still contain red lead – these should be clearly labelled.

The greatest risk occurs from older buildings that may still have a lead-based paint coating as they may have been repainted without previous layers of paint being removed.

Lead poisoning

Lead poisoning occurs when paint residue containing lead is swallowed or fumes are inhaled. The effect of lead is cumulative – it builds up in the body, and if left untreated, can lead to brain damage and death. Symptoms of lead poisoning may include tiredness, poor sleeping patterns, moodiness, lack of appetite and stomach pains.

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Lead-based paint removal

It is not possible to identify lead-based paint by its appearance. If you wish to test whether a sample of paint includes lead, there are several options. Some paint stores sell a simple test kit that you can use with a chip of paint and some will even do a test for you, or can arrange one. There are also accredited laboratories that offer testing services for lead in paint. If a building is over 30 years old, assume that it has been painted with lead-based paint.

Inhalation of dust and fumes is the principal way lead enters the body, so paint debris must be prevented from becoming airborne during removal and clean-up.

Take the following precautions when removing lead-based paint:

  • Use drop sheets when removing paint.
  • Wet sand to reduce dust.
  • Fit a power sander with a vacuum dust bag.
  • Wear a dust mask at all times.
  • Collect dust and debris as work proceeds and bag or contain in a suitable closed container (e.g. in strong plastic bags).
  • Dispose in a place approved by the local authority.
  • Do not remove lead-based paint if children or animals are in the vicinity.
  • Move animals' food and water bowls to a safe place.

For more information see Guidelines for the Management of Lead-Based Paint.

There is an Australian/New Zealand standard around dealing with lead paint on buildings: AS/NZS 4361.2:2017 Guide to hazardous paint management - Part 2: Lead paint in residential, public and commercial buildings

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