Lead-based paint

The risks of lead

Some older homes in Canada may have lead-based paint on the walls. Removing, repairing or disturbing this paint through normal wear-and-tear (such as paint on doors, windows, stairs and railings) can expose you and your children to serious health risks: lead poisoning can cause anaemia (a deficiency of red blood cells) as well as brain and nervous system damage.

The risk is greatest for children because they are growing and absorb lead easily. Even small amounts of dust with lead are dangerous to infants and children. Unborn children are also at risk if the mother-to-be consumes lead. Currently there is no known safe level of lead exposure.

How to find out if your home contains lead-based paint

Your home probably contains lead-based paint if it was built before 1960. If built between 1960 and 1990, the exterior may contain lead-based paint. The paint on interior surfaces may also contain lead in smaller amounts that could still be harmful, especially to young children. Houses built after 1990 should not contain lead because all consumer paints produced in Canada and the U.S. were virtually lead-free by this time.

If you want to find out whether your home contains lead paint, you can send paint chip samples to a lab for analysis or hire a contractor who has the proper x-ray equipment to detect lead on painted surfaces.

Should lead-based paint be removed or left alone?

Sometimes leaving lead-based paint alone is safer than removing it, as long as it is not chipping or within the reach of children. Covering the lead-paint area with wallpaper, wallboard or paneling provides extra security.

However, lead-based paint in the home is a serious health hazard when it's chipping, flaking or within reach of children who may chew on it. In this case, remove the paint following very specific guidelines.

Minimize the risk of lead poisoning

If you must remove lead-based paint from your walls:

  • Keep children and pregnant women away from the work area.
  • Consider hiring an expert to do the job. If you do it yourself, use a chemical paint stripper paste that can be applied with a brush.
  • Do not use sanders, heat guns or blowlamps to remove lead-based paint--this creates toxic dust and fumes with lead.
  • Remove all furnishings from the work area, or use a plastic sheet to completely cover anything you can't move.
  • Isolate the work area by covering doorways and vents with plastic sheeting and tape to prevent the spread of scrapings, chips and paint particles throughout your house.
  • Before you begin, make sure the room is well ventilated: set up a fan so it blows air out through an open window. Start by applying stripper near the fan and work your way back, so fumes are always blowing away from you.
  • Wear goggles, gloves and a good-quality breathing mask. If you spill any chemical stripper on your skin, wash it off right away. If you get chemical stripper on your work clothes, take them off immediately and wash separately from other clothing.
  • Work for ten minutes at a time and take breaks outdoors. Leave the work area right away if you have trouble breathing, get a headache or feel dizzy or sick.
  • Never eat, drink or smoke while removing paint, and keep anything that might cause a spark or static electricity out of the work area.
  • Clean the work area thoroughly at the end of each day. Put paint scrapings and chips in a sealed container marked "Hazardous Waste" and dispose of it according to the instructions of your local municipality. Wipe down the area with a clean damp cloth, and throw the cloth away.
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