Department of Health

Lead-based paint warning for DIY Victorians

Published by Department of Health & Human Services

Do-it-yourself in Victoria is extremely popular, but it is not without some risks.

Throughout this week the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services is urging Victorians to take action to prevent exposure to lead in paint, which is common in older houses and often uncovered or disturbed during renovations.

Coinciding with the World Health Organisation's international lead poisoning prevention week, Victoria's Chief Health Officer Professor Charles Guest said one of the biggest risks in Victoria is exposure to lead in old paint.

"Outside of the workplace almost 30 per cent of Victorians who were notified to DHHS between 2010 and 2016 with high blood-lead levels indicated that they had been exposed to lead-containing paint,' Prof Guest said.

"While house paint containing lead is no longer manufactured in Australia, paints containing high levels of lead were used in many Australian houses prior to 1970.

"Some automotive and marine paints may also contain lead. As lead paint ages, it flakes and crumbles, creating lead-contaminated dust.

"Removal of lead-based paint, as part of home renovation activities, can also produce dust containing lead. Paint dust can then be inhaled, or some children may eat chips of paint containing lead," Prof Guest said.

Lead is toxic to multiple body systems, including the central nervous system and brain, the reproductive system, the kidneys, the cardiovascular system, and the blood and immune systems.

Lead is especially dangerous to children's developing brains, and causes reduced intelligence quotient (IQ) and attention span, impaired learning ability, and increased risk of behavioural problems. Unborn babies are also at risk, since lead swallowed by the pregnant mother readily passes through the placenta.

Children under five years of age are especially vulnerable to lead exposure because they frequently put their hands to their mouths, they absorb and retain more lead from their gut and airways than adults do, and their developing brains are more sensitive to the effects of lead.

Children with pica - a behaviour that leads to eating non-food substances -- are at an increased risk of lead exposure.

Prof Guest said anyone painting a house or doing maintenance that could disturb lead-based paint should avoid exposing themselves and their families, neighbours and pets to lead by taking appropriate precautions.

All home renovators are advised take the following actions:

  • If you are removing lead-based paint, make sure children, pregnant women, and pets are not in the area until the work has been completed and all residue has been removed.
  • Use proper personal protective equipment and wash your hands with warm soapy water before eating or smoking.
  • Clean up thoroughly to get rid of dust and paint chips from peeling paint. Use wet cleaning methods for dusty floors, ledges, window sills and other flat surfaces to minimise the risk of lead-containing dust getting into the air.
  • If you are unsure whether your home may contain lead paint, or you cannot obtain the right equipment to undertake the work safely, call in professional help.
  • If you suspect that you or a member of your family has been exposed to lead, visit your doctor for further advice. They may recommend that you have a blood test to measure the amount of lead in your blood and determine whether you have lead poisoning.

To find out more about lead exposure and how to prevent it, visit the Better Health Channel.

Reviewed 23 October 2017


Contact details

Bram Alexander Department of Health Media Unit

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