Lead Paint and Hazards

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Last Updated: 
July 2015

Lead-based paint was commonly used in homes built before 1980. Since then, scientists have found that even low levels of exposure to lead can be harmful to children’s health and development.

Removing or disturbing paint as part of a renovation project may expose you and your family to lead. Before you begin renovations, consider the following information in order to minimize the health risks to you and your family.

What are the health hazards of lead exposure?

Exposure to lead is bad for your health. Lead poisoning can occur when you are exposed to high levels of lead. This can cause anemia and impaired brain and nervous system functions.

Low levels of exposure to lead can also cause health effects, such as learning disabilities and behavioural problems in children.

The public’s exposure to lead has decreased over the years, but lead can still be a problem. It is important to be aware of lead sources so you can minimize your health risks. Lead-based paint is a dangerous lead source but precautions can be taken to reduce exposure.

Who is at higher risk?

Children and pregnant women are at higher risk. Toddlers are at risk when crawling on floors containing lead chips or dust. Children can ingest lead by swallowing lead paint chips, or putting their hands, toys and other objects that have come in contact with lead dusts in their mouths. Once ingested, children absorb more lead into their bodies compared to adults. For pregnant women, even low levels of lead can affect the growth of the developing baby.

Does my home contain lead-based paint?

Homes built before 1960 were most likely painted inside and outside with lead-based paint. Newer homes, particularly those built before 1980, may also contain lead paint. It is not likely that paints containing high levels of lead were used inside the home after 1980.

In Canada since 2010, any paint containing more than 0.009% lead must be labeled to indicate that it is not safe to use in areas accessible to children or pregnant women. If you are painting your home, make sure that the paint you buy is for interior, or inside use only.

Exterior paints, which are paints used on the outside of a home, can contain lead. If it contains lead, the paint will have a warning label. Lead paint should never be used inside a home or building.

How can I test my home?

If your home was built before 1980, check painted surfaces for lead by using a home lead test kit or sending a sample to a certified laboratory. Contact your local public health unit for more information. A licensed contractor can also tell you if your house has leaded paint.

Should lead-based paint be removed?

Exposure to lead-based paint usually occurs from ingestion. Lead-based paint does not present a health hazard as long as the paint is not chipping, flaking, crushed or sanded into dust.

To reduce the chance of exposure to lead-based paint, surfaces in good condition can be covered with non-lead paint, vinyl wallpaper, wallboard or paneling.

Whenever you disturb surfaces with lead paint, you risk creating hazardous lead dust, even if the lead paint is covered with new paint. Certain precautions can minimize the risk. Follow the safety rules outlined below when removing lead-based paint from walls, ceilings, and other structures, and when sanding or knocking down a wall. These steps will help protect you and your family’s health during renovations. Depending on the difficulty of the work involved, it might be a good idea to hire a trained professional.

How do I safely remove lead-based paint?

Protect your family

Children are more sensitive to the effects of lead than adults. Children and women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should avoid exposure to lead. If there is a chance your home will be contaminated with lead dust during renovations, move toddlers, preschool children, and pregnant women elsewhere until the work is done.

Protect yourself

Wear appropriate protective clothing such as coveralls, goggles, gloves, and most importantly, a NIOSH (U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) approved respirator for dust, mist, and fumes to reduce the possible intake of lead. Consult your local safety equipment dealer. Do not eat, drink, or smoke in an area where paint is being removed.

Prepare the area

To prevent spreading paint chips and dust to other parts of the house, remove children and pets from the area and seal all heating vents.

Protect the entrance to the working area with plastic to contain dust. Remove all drapes, rugs, furniture, and household items from the area. Cover objects that cannot be moved, including the floor, with heavy plastic, and seal with tape. Fill a spray bottle with water and a small amount of detergent to wet all surfaces and to contain any dust during renovations or clean-up.

If working outdoors, use drop sheets to catch any paint scrapings, and do not work on windy days. Cover windows and doors with plastic to keep scrapings and dust out of the house.

Use safe stripping techniques

Use techniques that do not spread lead dust or fumes. Chemical stripping produces the least amount of lead dust. As chemical stripping agents also contain potentially harmful substances, they must be used with care. Mechanical removal through sanding or grinding produces more lead dust.

Do not spread the dust around

Turn off forced air heating and air conditioning systems and cover vents with taped plastic sheeting. Remove protective clothing and footwear whenever you leave the work area. Wash work clothes separately from other laundry or discard them when you are finished.

Do a daily clean-up

At the end of each day, wetting the dust and wet-wiping will help clean up and prevent dust from spreading. Put all waste into a secure container or sealed plastic bag. Mark the bag as hazardous waste. Vacuum with a HEPA vacuum cleaner. Wash your hands, face, tools, and your personal protective equipment once your work is done and before you enter a clean area.

Do a final clean-up

Wait at least 1 day after completing work to let any dust settle, and then do a final clean-up. Wet wipe all surfaces, and throw away the plastic used to contain the area. Place in a sealed plastic bag.

For More Information

To contact your local health authority environmental health officer, go to www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/about-bc-s-health-care-system/partners/health-authorities/regional-health-authorities or call:

  • Fraser Health 604-587-4600
  • Interior Health 250-862-4200
  • Island Health 250-370-8699
  • Northern Health 250-565-2649
  • Vancouver Coastal Health 604-736-2033

For more information about lead in your home, read Steps to Lead Safe Renovations, Repair and Painting developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency at www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2013-11/documents/steps_0.pdf (PDF 5.01 MB)

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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