Can your house make you ill? The forgotten dangers of lead poisoning
Lead was widely used in paint until the 1960's when restrictions were placed upon its usage: therefore there is little risk for post 1970 built properties. However, listed properties have an extremely high level of risk of lead contamination. Indeed, the older the property, the more chance that old paint clinging tenaciously to wood, metal and wall probably contains lead.
Lead hazards are very real, if relatively easy to manage. Listed property owners would be well advised to err on the side of caution and assume that any paint they disturb does contain lead and should take the necessary action.
Government advice on lead paint in pre-1970 homes (they say pre-'1960s') is simple enough:
"The people most at risk from lead are young children and pregnant women.
If you think the paintwork is likely to get knocked or chewed by young children, or scratched by pets, or if it could be damaged in some other way that could release dust into your home, it would be best to sort it out now.
If you think your home does have lead paintwork, especially if it's in bad condition, peeling or flaking - it's best to be on the safe side".
Most painting and decorating 'professionals' do not know they must comply with the Control of Lead at Work Regulations, 2002 (CLAW). Make sure anyone you employ is aware of their obligations, and is capable of fulfilling them, because your home could be their next workplace!
Listed property owners are not alone in their risk of lead poisoning. 18.5 million UK homes pre-date 1970, so up to 72% of all UK homes could still be affected by lead paint hazards. You may recall that toys were withdrawn from sale because the paint used had a lead content – not so easy though to withdraw your home from the market!
However, approximately 80% of the lead ingested by children in the form of dust (or paint chips) is the result of normal play and hand-to-mouth activity. The same applies to adults in non-work setting, such as in the home.
A granule of lead the size of a grain of freeze dried coffee, if ingested by a small child, would be enough to poison not only him, but 24 others also. However, you would only ever find out that they had died as a result of lead poisoning if precise blood tests were applied. Symptoms range from stomach ache to IQ deficiencies and usually build up slowly over a period of time to eventually turn into coma and death. This therefore is something that we should all be aware of.
If you own an old or listed property, you should assume that lead paint (and the dust from this) is likely to be an issue. Upgrade your vacuum cleaner to one fitted with a HEPA filter and use this regularly on all floors and horizontal areas: this is the single most cost-effective action you can take to control lead dust in your property. It also provides a use for all those tools that come with the vacuum cleaner! Combine this with the use of a wet mop/cloth on hard surfaces, it's basic hygiene but it works.
Help is at hand from LiPSA (The Lead Paint Safety Association). They can be contacted at www.lipsa.org.uk and will help you deal with any paint containing lead – including showing you how to identify contamination.