A relation of mine is buying an older property in Bristol, dating from the 1890’s. He has asked me about lead paint and how can he check if there is any in the property and if so what should he do.

Is it present?It is better to assume that if the property is older than 1970’s there is probably lead paint in it somewhere. This applies unless there is solid proof that a previous owner has removed all the older paint in the past, but this may be hard to obtain. Before it was outlawed lead paint was used to paint any surface in a property from walls, timber to metal. When it was available it was usually a more expensive paint and therefore it may be more likely to be present in larger properties.

Assessment

The two clues that the paint is lead are that it comes away in brittle flakes and has more weight. Modern paints by comparison will split or peel and are lighter. If you think it is lead paint I would advise you to call an assessor/ paint expert to give a definite opinion. Always wash your hands carefully after handling lead paint. If you are worried that you or your children have been exposed to lead paint or lead dust, my understanding is that this can be confirmed by a blood test.

Risk level

Maintain all paint in good condition, as the lead dust is released from peeling or damaged paint, or by sanding or scraping paint in older homes. Lead dust enters the air and then settles on floors, window cills, shelves and other surfaces where it can get into people’s mouths. Lead paint in good condition is less of a problem.

Removal

Care must be taken when removing lead paint, to prevent dust from the paint becoming suspended in the air, and then being inhaled, where it will cause a serious health risk. Any rubbing down of the paint will cause small particles of lead to enter the air. Young children are particularly susceptible to danger from lead dust. Therefore, in my opinion it is best to call in a specialist contractor to remove the paint. They will have the equipment and know how to remove it and dispose of it safely. My understanding is that the specialist is able to remove the paint safely by using equipment that keeps the paint damp while stripping it off. Floors, window frames and furniture etc are protected by dust sheets while this is taking place.  The contractor should dispose of the paint and dustings safely to an authorised waste disposal centre.

Further information:

See the British coatings federation guidelines for dealing with lead paint  here:

See the US EPA guidelines on lead paint removal here:

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