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QUESTION: Is any colour change in a Lead Check kit indicative of lead being present? 29/03/11 Western Australia, Australia

We have just bought a 1950's house in Hilton, WA. The previous owner lived there for 60 years and we can only see a couple of paint layers throughout, indicating that perhaps lead paint may have been used. We tested flakes from each room using a testing kit we bought from Bunnings. The kit says that if the swab/paint samples turn pink or red, lead is present. Our swabs turned a rust colour and the paint samples showed a pale orange. But when we tested the liquid from the swab on the lead confirmation card to check whether the test had worked properly, that was a definite red. My question is this: is the fact that both the swab and the paint flake samples turned any colour at all, rather than staying neutral, indicative of lead being present? I am particularly anxious about this as I'm five months pregnant.

We would also rather someone came in to test the house rather than relying on more confusing tests, but are having difficulty finding someone neutral who can give us a 'yes/no' answer. My concern with getting a lead management accredited painter in to assess the problem is that we have no way of knowing whether they may tell us there is lead present, even if there isn't, in the hope that we then employ them to strip it out when we could do it ourselves if there's no risk. That sounds very cynical but we definitely don't have the money to spend getting a professional to strip it all unless it's absolutely necessary..

EMAIL TWO Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 12:18 PM

Hi Elizabeth,

Would you mind answering another question for me please?

Ideally, I would like the lead paint stripped. Both my partner and I contract, and whilst he's (thankfully!) very busy, the studio where I work is pretty quiet so I have time on my hands to be able to do very basic renovations.

When we prise a wall scraper underneath the paint, it comes off extremely easily in great wide strips, so we're not having to sand anything ie there's presumably a reduced risk of fine dust particles. If I were to strip the paint off in this way whilst wearing a respirator, gloves, goggles and coveralls, and make sure that all the strips that collect on the dust sheet are swept up promptly and disposed off in refuse sacks tied at the top, does this all sound relatively safe for me to do whilst pregnant? I know that we could paint safely over the top, but a painter friend has told us the reason it's probably coming off so easily is because the walls weren't primed properly to start with, so it would be good to do the job properly once and for all and get rid of the old paint at the same time. The floors are all wood so we can keep everything hoovered up quickly also.

Obviously I don't want to put either myself or the baby at risk, but I was hoping that the precautions I'm suggesting above would be enough for us to get cracking so that we can move in ASAP.


ANSWER: Mar 29 2011 

Dear Madam,

The simple answer to your question is "yes" - the colour change IS indicative of lead being present. I don't know of any environmental consultants in Western Australia who are experienced in home lead assessments.

With a house of that age and a colour change away from yellow with the Lead Check kit, in order to save money for the renovation (rather than spend it on confirmatory laboratory lead testing), I would recommend that you assume the paint is leaded and consider doing the work yourselves after boning up on how to do it lead-safely, given your under abundance of cash.

We have had no feedback on those few painting contractors in WA who have lead paint management training so there is a possibility that, if he is well-informed and careful, your partner might even be able to do a better job (more lead-safe) of either stripping or preparing the old paint.

Your first decision is thus whether you want to completely strip the lead paint (it is certainly not a legal requirement to strip) or just prepare it lead-safely for repainting. That decision is often made on the basis of cost (overpainting is cheaper). The best reason for full lead paint stripping is if you have a child or pet who chews on painted things. Being pregnant you can't know if your child will be a "chewer" but then again, chewing children are not that common so you could take your chances and simply use the four-step process of paint preparation now, then repaint and then, IF it turns out you have a chewing child down the track, determine what to do about it at that time.

The four-step process is described at in the sentence beginning: "If you can't afford full paint removal, then lead-safe paint preparation is the minimum requirement to manage the paint..."

I hope this helps and I wish you the best with the new-home-new-baby.

Please keep in mind that lead in paint is not the only hazard that you need to protect yourself from during renovation, in order to protect the baby. There's also asbestos, fumes from carpet glues / new furniture / new building materials - to name a few. Hard floors are far easier to maintain as lead-safe in a house with young children, than carpeted floors or rugs.

If you could keep well away from the renovation and clean-up, that is all for the best.

Elizabeth O'Brien

EMAIL TWO  Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 6:44 PM

Subject: Is it safe to renovate while pregnant if I sweep and vacuum the lead paint up?

Dear Madam,

If you do it lead-safely, it’s ok for you to do the work. Neither sweeping nor vacuuming is lead-safe so please use methods that prevent the need to sweep or vacuum or to use any other “dry” method.

I should have mentioned that when you go to look for the four-step process described at in the sentence beginning: "If you can't afford full paint removal, then lead-safe paint preparation is the minimum requirement to manage the paint..." - you could also very usefully read the rest of that fact sheet and investigate the most relevant links in it.

The four steps for what I call "paint preparation for re-painting" and for what you are planning to do but calling it “paint removal”, are: 

  1. wet-scraping (spray surface with a water spray bottle held in one hand then scrape paint onto plastic sheeting taped or held down all the way around the edges),
  2. wet-sanding (using water spray bottle again and wet-and-dry sandpaper or sanding sponge intended to be used wet),
  3. sugar-soaping (follow directions on the sugar-soap container)
  4. wiping down with water.

Dry-scraping is not a lead-safe process but wet-scraping (as explained above) is.

Depending on the condition of the paint, more or less paint will come off with the wet-scraping and wet-sanding steps. By the sound of it, you will be removing quite a bit of paint in these steps – although you’ll find that on areas that are not subject to the weather, the paint will be better adhered and perhaps most of it will remain on the surface after wet-scraping and wet-sanding.

The hardest most time-consuming part of full paint stripping is the final 5-10% (or more, on surfaces in full shade and undercover) of the paint which is well-adhered / ingrained in wooden surfaces.

Running a lead management information service, my advice only goes as far as preparing the surface for repainting: the paint companies all have technical advice services about which products to use to prime, undercoat and topcoat in various circumstances, but the truth is that ANY paint will adhere to a well-prepared surface (and the better the paint, the longer it will adhere).

Even in the traditional and common non-lead-safe method of paint preparation – dry-scraping is followed by dry-sanding because sanding is required to rough up the old surface and get a good lock-in for the new paint. The lead-safe difference

is in the water-spray which means both the scraping and the sanding are wet.

Once the paint particles are sanded and adhered to the surface by the waterspray, the sugar-soap binds specifically to the lead particles and the rinsing step is the one that actually removes the lead paint particles from the surface, leaving a roughed-up but clean surface which any paint will adhere to.

Please DON”T ignore the critically important set-up action of laying plastic sheeting preferably one sheet of plastic, on the floor and taping it around the edges onto the floor. Vacuuming should NEVER be part of your plan. Your aim is to prevent the need for vacuuming. Vacuuming is what you do to clean-up after a disaster like a paint contractor who comes in and dry-sands after contracting with you to only wet-sand. And in that disastrous situation you’d have the huge task of locating an industrial HEPA vac in your area – something that no one has ever reported to me that they have achieved in Western Australia. You NEVER want to use your domestic vacuum cleaner to clean up lead paint dust and you NEVER EVER want to sweep paint debris because you’ll put dust into the air as sweeping is a dry process.

Prevention of the need to vacuum or sweep is the only cure.

Yes its very wise to wear goggles, disposable overalls, gloves and a respirator although using the water-spray bottle and other wet-steps is designed to prevent the release into the air of any dust from the paint and the plastic sheeting is there to capture all the paint debris. Once you’ve completed the wet-sanding, you can untape the plastic from the floor and fold it in from the edges to enclose the paint debris. Once wrapped up safely, place the whole plastic sheet in a plastic bag, and dispose of it, ensuring that all the paint debris is not going to spread anywhere.

All the best with the work.

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien, Manager

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