Despite knowing about the serious issues with lead paint and leads as a neurotoxin, it was only finally banned in this country in 1992. This means that there is a risk that a high proportion of the country are being exposed regularly to toxic levels of lead on a regular basis.
Lead paint was banned in Australia in 1906 and the USA in 1978 as the dangers have been well known. In this country the use was restricted from 1963, where it’s use should have been restricted to historic buildings, until it’s final ban in 1992.
The result is that in the majority of homes this dangerous paint will be present. Even post war homes are at risk, where the paints used could have had up to 50% lead content.
The Dangers of Lead Paint
The government suggest that the safe limit is 25 milligrams of lead per decilitre of blood. However research has shown that at a level of 10 milligrams, effects can be seen in the mental development and behaviour of young children. (Dr Erik Millstone, of Sussex University’s Science Policy Research Unit) So a couple of 10 milligram paint flakes and a child has ingested a substantial dose.
The problem is most acute in Victorian homes, where more paint of this type has been use over the years and then may have deteriorated to cause lead dust. That said even post war homes were painted with these paints.
Incredibly at this time the highest concentrations of lead were used in paints, up to 50%, until approximately 1950 before levels were reduced.
Strip or Paint over Lead Paint?
Most of us will have lead paint in our homes. The question is what should we do about it?
There is no clear answer, although the British Coating Federation have produced a comprehensive guide which you can download here.
Their advice is:
If paint is in sound condition do NOT remove it, especially if the lead paint is not the top layer – just overcoat.
There is no risk so long as the paint film is sound or not disturbed.
If the surface is damaged, peeling or flaking you will probably need to strip it. If there is a danger that children, who are particularly prone to poisoning, could ingest the paint, then it should be removed.