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QUESTION: How do we prevent lead poisoning when the neighbour has sanded lead paint all over our yard & into the house? 03/08/09 Queensland, Australia

To whom it may concern, I wonder if you would be able to help me? My neighbour has been sanding (electric) his house over the last few weekends and has told me it is lead based paint and to keep my windows closed but still our whole yard and house is now covered in the dust produced and has come through the louvres and blown into our house. We have a 2 year old and are very concerned about her and us getting lead poisoning. What steps would you recommend we take to ensure this doesn't happen? Will we need professional help? Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Thanking you,

Dan Webster

ANSWER: Aug 3 2009

Dear Dan,

the answer as to how to prevent lead poisoning from the leaded paint dust that is all over your yard and has come into your house is to completely prevent your daughter having any exposure to it, and to use wet cleaning methods (wet-mopping and wet-wiping) and good detergent (or liquid sugar soap) on all hard surfaces including toys (while wearing a P1 or P2 face mask and clothes which will be washed separately to the family washing) and pay Elite Maintenance Service (phone 131580) to remove the dust from mattresses, soft furnishings, drapes, carpets and rugs and to wash anything else that is dusty that you can wash in the washing machine, including soft toys and cloth books.

But the real question is: who's going to do all this work and pay for it and can you convince your local council to send out an environmental health officer to collect dust-wipe and soil samples, as well as any remaining paint flakes if there's any left to test, and pay for the testing so that they have the evidence to order your neighbour to clean up his own home and yard as well as any affected neighbours homes and yards? There is a precedent in Brisbane for the insurance company of a painting contractor paying $24,000 to decontaminate a neighbour's property after the contractor was paid to dry sand the paint from the house next door but I don't know of a successful action being mounted against a neighbour per se.

Certainly, the first piece of evidence you want to obtain are the current blood lead levels of all your family members and it would truly be a community service if you advised other affected neighbours and especially the guy doing the sanding work, to do the same. Any GP can order this test. From my websearch I see that Woody Point is in the Greater Brisbane Region but if you are also unfortunate enough to be in the Brisbane City Council area, then you really want to be armed to the teeth (with facts and especially with any available data - like the age of the neighbour's house and how you know that it's lead paint, and preferably it's lead content, if known, the age of any possibly affected young children apart from your own) when you make the call to demand an environmental health officer come to your home to observe the paint dust contamination and make a recommendation as to the neighbour being ordered to pay for its cleanup. Brisbane City Council officers seem to have their head in the sand regarding the dangers of lead paint so, good luck with all that.

If your neighbour had paid a contractor to do the work, or if your neighbour has any financial gain from the work (eg if he's really a landlord repainting the house in order to rent it out), you would have had a much better chance of getting an Inspector from Workplace, Health and Safety to come out and order this cleanup.

I am attaching a draft factsheet that may help you further but my basic advice is that if you can't either clean up or organise a professional clean up ASAP, and the dusty part of your yard and house is unavoidable/unable to be cordoned off, then you might want to consider moving out of your house until it is cleaned up, or at least moving your 2 yr old out, especially if she is prone to putting her fingers in her mouth and playing on the floor or in the garden. Sorry to be so dramatic but that really is the only sure way of preventing lead poisoning in the situation you have described, if I've understood you correctly. I hope this helps. Please don't hesitate to call with any further questions. Do either you or your neighbours have a rainwater tank for drinking water? That would make things a whole lot worse.

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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