Air Quality

Lead Paint: Is It Problematic?

As we strive to make our homes more energy efficient indoor contaminants are becoming a more conscious issue for many homeowners. Mold and asbestos are two examples but one that is often ignored, especially in an older home is lead in the paint on your walls and more likely your window, floor and door trim. If your home was built after the 70’s, the likelihood that you have any amount of lead paint is slim. Lead paint was banned from paint by the mid 70’s. If your home was built after the WW11 up to the 60’s, you will likely have some levels, all be it likely very small. If your home was built before 1950, you can bet you have a greater concentration of lead paint in many areas of the home.


There has been a lot of concern about the lead in paint in years gone by and rightfully so in many cases. One comment made some years ago stated that a lead paint chip the size of a loonie contains enough lead to poison a child. While there is some truth to that, in reality if a child swallowed a solid paint chip in its whole this size the chance that they would sustain any harm is slim, their system would likely pass this chip. If a child under 4-6 years old inhaled the same volume of lead dust, now we have a problem. This is the difference and it is similar to asbestos in this condition, it is the dust that is the major concern. Why children? An adult generally has a better understanding of health and hygiene and is not crawling on the floors and putting every thing in sight in their mouth.  As one study noted, the human body is able to flush fine traces of lead out of the system.  A child’s brain however is not fully developed and here lies the largest concern along with the blood stream.  While there are areas of concerns, generally if the paint in your home is stable you will likely have few problems if any. Paint made up to the early 50’s commonly had a major lead content, especially in some of the darker colors. Lead content was higher in semi-gloss and high gloss paints, the ones that were advertised as scrub able. These were popular around windows, trim and walls and cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms. What can you do? We have known for years that if an older home is kept clean then lead is generally not a problem. If you allow moisture and excess humidity to remain in the home, the result is peeling paints and from this older paint will deteriorate and leave a dust, here-in lays the concern. Any areas of the home where constant contact happens, older painted floors and stair treads, kitchen cabinets, even doors that bind, the friction will cause dust to appear. One thing about lead dust, is it is heavy and does not travel very far on its own. Some the areas I have mentioned are usually where the  concentrations will stay. Healthlinkbc.ca has a good section on exposure to lead paints.


If you are concerned that you have lead paint that has deteriorated, it can be removed.   If you have large concentrations, full disposable coveralls, disposable gloves and a facemask with a HEPA filter is the dress code here. If it is only window frames or a small area, a mask and disposable gloves should suffice. The secret for removal, do not sand!!.

You can use scrapers, keep the area wet with a pump sprayer or spray bottle and the only vacuum you can use is one that has a HEPA filter cartridge installed. Conventional vacuum cleaner filters are not fine enough. Work in small areas. Once you have scraped the paint off and this is slow tedious work, you should wash the area fully. Apply a strong full strength spray detergent on a small area, and scrub down with a coarse rag. Ring the rag out in a bucket of warm water and using a second rag from a clean bucket of hot water, rinse the area fully. There are some paint strippers that are also effective, follow the directions to the letter. Go to www.canada.ca and type in lead paint. It will bring you to a section lead paint and some guidelines from Health Canada.


Lead, like asbestos is best left alone. It is the dust particles that become the problem.  Make no mistake, lead poisoning is serious business and can have long-term health effects particularly affecting the brain or nervous system. If you would like to do your own test, home hardware has the Abotex Lead Inspector 4 piece lead paint test kit.  Canadian Tire has a similar kit called the safe home kit. Most lead testing kits sell for under $30.00. These are contact type test kits and are a couple of the most recognized available. 

Health Canada did put a warning out a few years however about how inaccurate some of these kits are so if you do your own testing and find lead, I would then have a professional lab do further testing as a confirmation.


One of the best books I have seen is “Lead Paint Safety; The Guide for Painting, Home Maintenance and Renovations”. Call the National Lead Information Centre at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323) and purchase a copy. This center is tied to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Lead in older homes should be handled with care that said it can be cleaned up and the surfaces made safe for refinishing.  Cam Allen L.I.W. NHI ACI can be reached at info@camallenconsulting.com for comments or questions.

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November 13, 2023
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