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QUESTION: How much of a risk is lead dust on interior surfaces from automobile paint restoration? 08 Jan 2008 North Carolina, USA

RE: lead dust during automobile restoration

I am having my 1966 Chevrolet truck painted at a body shop. When I went to make a deposit, the truck was being sanded, and dust covered the exterior and interior, including the cloth seats. I'm sure the shop will do a clean up, but now I'm concerned about lead dust in the cloth seat and other soft materials (eg. insulation) on the interior of the vehicle. How much of a risk will this be--will it be safe for occasional rides, particularly for my daughter (9 years old). How can I ensure that there is no harmful level of lead dust in the interior after the work is completed. Any information is greatly appreciated.‍

ANSWER: 08 Jan 2008

Dear Ozzie,

The answer to your question depends on the following factors:

  • the concentration of lead in the automobile paint. If the paint contains lead, then also;
  • how much of the dust remains in and on the soft surfaces & on hard surfaces inside the Chevrolet (vacuuming with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner will help but cannot remove all the dust IN the seating. All the hard and soft surfaces should be vacuumed and then cleaned with water and a good detergent - there are lead-specific detergents on the market in the US);
  • how much movement there is of the soft seating (eg if people flop down or are boisterous on it when getting into the truck, this could release a cloud of dust which would then be available for anyone to inhale);
  • how much time anyone who has a tendency to put their fingers in their mouth, spends in the truck;
  • how recently they had a meal and the nutritional status of at-risk individuals (more lead is absorbed from the gut if the stomach is empty or the person is low in iron, calcium or zinc).

What makes you so sure the shop will do a clean up? If they were conscious of lead paint dust contamination being a problem they would not have used dry sanding in the first place. You would be doing every other customer of the auto body shop and all their staff a favour if you reported them to your state occupational health agency for use of non-lead safe paint renovation practices.

I recommend also that you ask the auto body shop to pay for a lead inspector to carry out lead dust wipe testing inside the truck in order to determine there is no harmful level of lead dust in the interior after the clean-up work is completed. Alternatively, you could pay for it yourself and subtract the cost from the amount you still owe for the work.

If the auto body shop complains about your actions to quantify and reduce lead poisoning risks to your family, ask them to show you the register of blood lead results for their workers, in order to convince you that they are managing lead risks (at least for their workers).

In this day and age when we know that any blood lead level above two micrograms per decilitre carries unacceptable health risks, there is no excuse for allowing poor practice (apparently the industry standard) to continue. The final proof as to the lead risk to your 9 year old daughter is for her to have a blood lead test before you get the truck back and then another test after travelling in the truck for a couple of weeks or months (depending on how quickly you want to know).

I'd be very interested to hear back from you as to the outcome.

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien,

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