If a building was built before the 1980s, there is a good chance lead-based paint was used on surfaces such as window frames, door frames, skirting boards, and even some walls. If the paint is in good condition it may present a low risk, however, if the paint is damaged or flaking, this may cause a high risk of exposure.
The benefits of adding lead to paint is to make the paint more durable, more moisture resistant, and even decreases the time it takes the paint to dry. Lead carbonate can also neutralise the acidic decomposition products of some of the oils that make up the paint, so the coating stays tough, yet flexible and crack-resistant, for longer. With such desirable properties, it is no wonder it was added to so many paints. Although lead improves paint performance, it is a harmful substance. It is especially damaging to children under the age of six whose bodies are still developing.
Lead causes nervous system damage, hearing loss, stunted growth, reduced IQ, and delayed development. It can cause kidney damage and affects every organ system of the body. It also is harmful to adults and can cause reproductive problems in adult men. Due to containing both lead and chromium, paint containing lead chromate is extremely toxic. It is a known carcinogen, developmental toxicant, and reproductive toxicant.
One myth associated with lead-based paint is that the most common cause of poisoning is eating leaded paint chips. In fact, the most common pathway of childhood lead exposure is through ingestion of lead dust through normal hand-to-mouth contact during which children swallow lead dust that has become dislodged from deteriorated paint or lead paint dust generated during remodeling or painting works.
Lead poisoning can occur when lead builds up in the body, often over months or years. Children younger than 6 years are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development.
Early symptoms of lead poisoning in adults consist of high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, headaches, abdominal pain and mood/memory disorders.
A lead paint inspection can detect lead concentrations on surfaces such as walls, skirting boards and window frames.
A lead paint inspection can help reduce the risk of lead exposure and its damaging effects. Traditionally, a lead paint inspection can be carried out using the bulk sampling method, this would require taking a small sample of a surface such as a window frame or flaking paint. These samples would then be sent to a laboratory for analysis.
A lead paint inspection can also be undertaken using the XRF (X-ray fluorescence) method, in which flaking paint and surfaces can be analysed for its lead content. XRF is now the preferred method to use when undertaking a lead paint inspection due to its instant results, portability, and the fact that there is no limit on the number of readings that can be taken.
Any paint with a concentration equal to or greater than 1% is considered to be lead containing. Any work with lead-containing paints where the concentration of lead exceeds 1% is likely to result in significant exposure. A lead paint inspection can minimise this exposure and reduce the risk to health by establishing the presence of lead in paint and surfaces before any work commences that may ultimately disturb the lead.
If a lead paint inspection determines lead-containing paint, necessary precautions would have to be in place before removing the paint, such as the use of RPE (respiratory protective equipment). A lead paint inspection can be conducted in both the workplace and domestic environments to determine the presence of lead and its concentration.