Safety and first aid

How to reduce your risk of lead exposure

When painting, renovating or disposing of items containing or contaminated with lead, it is important to handle materials safely to prevent lead exposure. Safe cleaning and disposal will avoid contaminating food, water, soil and air that can be consumed or inhaled by you and your family.

Diet can also have a major impact on how much lead is absorbed into the body. Consuming a balanced diet and forming healthy eating habits can help minimise the absorption of lead into the body.

The levels of lead detected in the Australian population have been steadily decreasing.

In December 1997 the Australian Standards were established to reduce the level of lead in paint to less than 0.1 per cent. However, a number of do-it-yourself (DIY) activities and hobbies involving lead-containing materials can produce dangerous levels of lead fumes and dust.

Hobby activities

Such activities include:

  • house renovations
  • car engine maintenance
  • making lead sinkers
  • panel beating or other body work on cars and boats
  • sanding or stripping old paint
  • spray painting cars and boats
  • heating, burning, flame cutting, melting, grinding or sanding any other products which contain lead.

If undertaking or intending to undertake any of these activities:

  • Use an area which can be isolated and readily cleaned.
  • Fence off areas to restrict access if possible.
  • Ensure area is well-ventilated and wear a respirator fitted with suitable filters when heating, welding, flame cutting or burning products which could contain lead. Filters are available which protect from dust or fumes; choose the one appropriate for the task.
  • Do not walk lead dust or dirt into your home. Place durable mats at all entrances which are regularly cleaned, and leave work boots and yard shoes outside.
  • Do not take contaminated clothing into the house. Remove as much dirt or dust as possible from clothes and keep them in a plastic bag until they can be washed. Wash contaminated clothing separately.

Paint and renovations

If you are painting or renovating your home:

  • Seek professional advice on the most appropriate and safe methods of renovating an old house/removing old paint.
  • Test old paint for lead concentration before starting any renovations. Test kits are available from hardware stores.
  • Use chemical paint strippers instead of blow torches or sandpaper when removing old paint which might contain lead. Chemical paint strippers can themselves be very toxic, so read the label and follow all safety directions.
  • Consider painting over old lead paint if renovations cannot be carried out without generating a lot of dust and fumes.
  • Do not renovate when children are present. Consider temporarily covering old paint until renovations can be completed without children present.

A booklet titled Lead Alert: A six step guide to painting your home contains information about the safe and appropriate methods of handling lead compounds and lead-containing material. It is available on the Department of the Environment website (external site)

Disposing of items containing or contaminated with lead

When cleaning or disposing of lead and lead-contaminated items:

  • Thoroughly clean areas contaminated with lead paint flakes or lead dust, and use a wet rag or mop and discard after use.
  • If vacuuming lead dust use a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuum cleaner to prevent dust being re-released into your home.
  • Empty HEPA vacuum bags and dust collected into a plastic bag. Do this outside the house and place the waste in an external bin.
  • Cover or seal lead tailings or contaminated soil. Depending on the location and how often the area is used, consider sealing the contaminated area with concrete, paving, gravel, clean fill or planting grass to restrict contact with your family and pets.
  • Do not store old car batteries, radiators or lead flashing in or around your house. Contact your local government waste management department (external site) for further information on recycling and the safe disposal options.
  • Do not burn painted wood.

Diet and nutrition

To reduce your risk of absorbing lead:

  • Eat a balanced diet with adequate levels of calcium, iron, vitamin C, zinc and magnesium. People with iron and calcium deficiency tend to absorb more lead. Good sources of iron include poultry, red meat, liver, fish, fortified cereal, cooked beans/lentils, and green leafy vegetables. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are good sources of calcium.
  • Avoid high-fat diets as they increase lead absorption.
  • Give young children regular meals and snacks – a child with an empty stomach can absorb 7 times more lead than a child that has eaten.
  • Wash home grown vegetables thoroughly before eating or cooking them if you live in a lead-exposed environment or if lead is being used in your backyard.
  • Do not eat or drink after working with lead or materials containing lead, until you have thoroughly washed your hands.
  • Do not use pottery or ceramic products purchased overseas unless you are certain they are safe for storing or cooking food. These products may be coated in lead glazes or paints which may leach lead into food.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor.
  • Visit a GP after hours.
  • Ring healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222.
  • Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (24 hours a day) if you suspect poisoning.
  • For information on exposure at work contact WorkSafe Customer Help Centre on 1300 307 877 or to report an incident call 1800 678 198.
  • Contact the Environmental Health Directorate on 9388 4999.

Remember

  • It is important to handle materials safely so as not to contaminate food, water, soil and air that can be consumed or inhaled by you and your family.
  • A number of DIY activities and hobbies can produce dangerous levels of lead fumes and dust.

If painting or undertaking household renovations seek appropriate professional advice.


Acknowledgements

Public Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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