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QUESTION: Could my flaking paint test4lead kit result be a false positive, or should I break my lease now? 17/07/10  Canterbury, New Zealand

Hi there, I have just conducted some tests and all the (flaky) external paint on our rental accommodation has come back very black (sulphide test) and therefore positive.

My sons and I have lived here for a year and a half, and in the last 6 months I have been quite sick (lungs predominantly) so that's when I started looking for answers (and new digs). I went mad gardening round here for the first year in what now seems to be a toxic environment, and the heat pump is also blasting in air from a flaky paint area.

My concern is this: is it likely that there could be iron or any other coating in this particular dodgy layer of paint that is giving a false positive reading for lead?

Right now I am ready to up sticks and leave ASAP... but am just trying to establish the chances of a false positive here; will be breaking out of a lease so... I take that quite seriously, almost as seriously as our health.

The LEAD Group Yours, Kez.

EMAIL TWO Wed, 28 Jul 2010 06:31:16 +1200

Dear Elizabeth, thank you so very much for your response. Am sorry didn't reply sooner as have been madly organising stuff for tenancy mediation.  Just want to say how appreciative of your earnest thorough and super-quick response I am, and our Edgeware Village Green has now some good advice to look into the toxicity.

Thank you again...Hopefully can set a precedent here to get out of my lease quick with the lead issue:)

Kerry McKenna

ANSWER: Jul 17 2010

Dear Kez,

I am sorry to hear about your ill-health and being stressed by having to weigh up the family's health against the onerous task of finding healthy housing and breaking a lease on the current rental property. Unfortunately any other home that might be available for rent may have the same flaking lead paint hazards or, worse still, invisible lead paint dust hazards (especially in carpets that were down when dry-sanding was done inside) or lead-contaminated soil hazards.

I suspect that New Zealand's Tenancy regulations are just as pathetic as Australia's in actually preventing unhealthy premises from being rented out, or helping the tenants to force the owner to fix such things as lead hazards in a property. You could check it out by contacting a Tenancy Advice or Advocacy Service or by searching online for the tenancy regulations and then searching for general words such as "healthy" or "paint" or "condition".

If the flaking paint was removed in a lead-safe way and the soil was tested for lead and managed if found to be lead-contaminated, then you wouldn't have to move out on account of lead in the flaking paint or lead from the flaking paint in the soil. If on the other hand there is mould or some other environmental hazard that is aggravating your lungs, then you may want to move out regardless of whether it's made lead-safe or not.

There's no reason not to trust the test4lead results or to believe that there would be iron rather than lead in the paint. You could send paint samples to a lab for confirmation of the lead content (so that you have something in writing to present to the agent / owner / tenancy tribunal if it comes to that), but people have established in tenancy tribunal cases in Australia, that flaking paint (tested by a spot test kit such as test4lead) is a reason for breaking a lease (and being compensated for removalists' expenses and even some back-rent) WHEN the tenant has also shown that any of the tenants (especially children) have an elevated blood lead level. The blood lead testing is easily organised through any doctor, so that would be my first recommendation to you, before you do anything else.

Children's blood lead levels are usually higher than adults' blood lead levels living in the same premises, especially if the children are young (under 6 yrs) or have high levels of hand-to-mouth activity (such as nail-biting or thumb-sucking, or, worst case scenario, pica (the tendency to eat non-food items). So certainly, you could get your own blood lead test done (though lead poisoning is unlikely to, on its own, explain respiratory ill-health specifically, lead at high levels does affect the immune system and therefore make you more prone to all kinds of infections), but your own blood lead result should not be seen as a surrogate for getting the childrens' blood lead levels tested. They're likely to have higher blood lead levels than you.

While you're waiting up to a week or so for the blood lead results you should put in writing to your agent / landlord, the fact that you have tested the flaking paint and found it is leaded and you therefore want the flaking paint removed, not by dry-sanding or dry-scraping or water-blasting or blowtorch or any other dispersive method, but by firstly removing everything that can be moved from the area and laying down 6mil plastic sheeting and taping it or weighting it at the edges so that the floor or ground is protected. Then you want either full removal of the paint by chemical stripping or - from wooden surfaces - by low-temperature heat gun, OR lead-safe preparation of the old paint in readiness for repainting. Lead-safe preparation for repainting is done by the four-step wet-process of

  1. wet-scraping (using a water-spray bottle in one hand and scraper in the other, spray-wetting a small area at a time and ensuring the flakes of paint are captured on the plastic sheeting),
  2. wet-sanding (again using the water-spray bottle in one hand and sandpaper or a sanding sponge which is designed to be used wet)
  3. sugar-soaping (the sugar-soap binds to the lead in the paint dust which is adhered to the wall by the water-spray)
  4. rinsing with a cloth and clean water (it's the rinsing that actually takes away the lead bound up in the sugar-soap).

The Australian New Zealand Standard on Lead Paint Management AS/NZ 4361.2 recommends laboratory lead testing of soil and dust wipe samples following the paint removal or paint preparation work and if the results are acceptable, the premises are then "cleared" for child occupation. If the results are unacceptable, then further soil management or wet-cleaning of hard surfaces, followed by further soil and dust wipe testing, are required for "clearance".

I note that you are involved with Edgeware Village Green community garden and that the first holes were dug for fruit trees on 18th March 2010. Can I be so bold as to also recommend that you ask the garden committee to get the soil tested for lead (as a marker contaminant) before people start eating the root vegetables, leafy greens or the strawberries that are known to potentially get soil on them that may be ingested (if people aren't advised to wash them first or peel the root vegies)?

International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) is the national authority for the accreditation of testing and calibration laboratories so the way to find a lab in New Zealand accredited for testing lead in soil and paint and dust wipes is to phone IANZ on 095256655.

Theoretically, I should be able to tell you just to search their website for accredited laboratory services for all these tests, at but I only found the following lab that is accredited to test for lead in soil by an internationally accepted methodology (rather than a methodology developed in-house by the lab):

Analytical Research Laboratories, PO Box 989, Napier, 4140 OR 890 Waitangi Road, Awatoto, Napier, 4110 Telephone: 06 835-9222, Fax: 06 835-9223

Maybe I'm just not patient or methodical enough, but when I searched for lead at I mostly found only leader; when I searched for dust, I found only industrial; for paint, only thickness of paint measurements; for heavy metals, only heavy metal testing in meat or dairy products: so I'm stumped, I can't tell from over here in Oz on the weekend, whether paint and soil and dust testing services for lead by any one or several labs have been accredited in New Zealand.

If it turns out after you phone them on Monday that no New Zealand lab is accredited for testing lead in dust wipes and/or paint, you are welcome to purchase one of our DIY-sampling lab lead analysis kits, if you or your landlord or your community garden committee is prepared to shoulder the extra postage costs and waiting times of posting the kit from and sending samples to Australia. The kit order form is at Online order form but please add to the Comments section of the form (at the bottom) that you are willing to pay the EXTRA postage cost for us to post the kit to New Zealand. The EXTRA postage amount will be the precise difference between the cost of posting it to Australia (it's the same price for all Australian destinations) and posting it to New Zealand.

I hope this helps in your decision making process and I wish you the best in a return to good health and protecting your sons from lead.

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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