LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News vol 7 no 1, 1999, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Paint Film Components – Outline of New Book

By Mike van Alphen, Lead Sense, PO Box 3421, Rundle Mall South Australia 5000

Paints have to be weatherproof, physically stable long-lived materials that are resistant to biological, physical and chemical attack. In the past that has often resulted in many familiar, toxic, long-lived chemical products being included in paint formulations. It is also those compounds that are highly colourful that were popular in older paints.

To find that arsenic, asbestos, cadmium, lead, mercury, PCB, and radium among many other compounds and materials have been included in paints should be no great surprise.

Paint Film Components, was published in June 1998 and written to explore the history of paint formulation and those many potentially toxic paint components.

Lead in paint is best known for having caused poisonings but there are instances where arsenic and mercury have caused harm. Many of the other potentially toxic materials in paints are much less well understood in terms of their human health related impacts. This book deals with the ‘long-lived’ components of paint films. While the volatile components of paints are increasing the subject of attention and the impacts of tin, and copper toxicity on marine life are well documented these matters are not dealt with in any detail.

So how many kilograms of lead is in the paint of your house?

Australian houses built in the 1920’s could readily contain 200 to 600 kilograms of lead in that thin coating of paint.

Cans of white lead paint and white lead pigments were sold by the pound - not by the gallon prior to the 1950’s. The hallmark of a quality paint would have been a paint can so heavy that you wouldn’t want to carry it too far.

Assuming that you have several hundred kilograms of lead on the side of a house how much would have to fall off to raise the soil lead concentration to a significant level. The book shows a number of examples.

Asbestos turns up in many old paint formulations under the guise of a range of synonyms. Short fibre length asbestos was a low-cost waste product from the asbestos fibre industry. A hardy material, cheap and having good properties in providing ‘tooth’ to undercoat layers so that subsequent paint layers would adhere firmly. The toxicity of asbestos fibres and their characteristics when incorporated in paint and subsequently liberated from paint is simply unknown. Asbestos fibres are readily observed in Australian paints but again the liberation and exposure is not well understood. Bridge paint undercoats for example could readily contain 10% asbestos by weight in the dry film. Painters would be the first group to investigate in relation to asbestos. This would be an important study to conduct.

Insect, fungus, mould and bacterial attack of paints has resulted in some of the more curious and toxic additives in paint. Pentachlorophenol, DDT and mercury are some of the materials that turn up as additives for these purposes. Some rare paint formulations are to be expected in industrial buildings and on industrial and scientific equipment.

Download Paint Film Components it is available from:

Public and Environmental Health Service
Department of Human Services
Rundle Mall SA 5000
phone (08) 8226 7107


van Alphen, Mike (1998) Paint Film Components National Environmental Health Forum Monographs General Series No 2. National Environmental Health Forum

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