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Safety While Renovating - be careful with lead

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Safety While Renovating - be careful with lead

If you are renovating your house, you may not be aware of all of the hazards associated with the materials you use. Knocking down parts of your house may expose you materials such as asbestos and lead. While renovating you may also be exposed to powders from construction materials, paint, dust and fumes. The department of Environment and Conservation gives important information about renovating in lead areas, and how to protect yourself. Lead is a particularly hazardous material as the dust is disturbed when renovating areas near the ceiling or wall cavity, converting an attic, installing roof insulation, installing a skylight, or adding another storey onto your house.

Lead is found in old paint and in the ceiling. Up to 50% lead was used in paint up until the 1970s, so some paint in older homes may contain a high proportion of lead. Lead is also found in roofs, in the form of lead dust, and can be inhaled if you go into the ceiling cavity. When renovating you may be exposed to lead if you knock down walls, remove doorways and window frames, or renovate other areas of the house which expose the ceiling, or disturb the paint on the walls. Renovation of pre-1970s houses can lead to lead poisoning if the home renovator does not take precautions. Lead in paint and ceilings can be disturbed through drilling, using power tools or heat tools such as a blow torch in these areas.

There are three ways you can be affected by hazardous materials, through inhalation of fumes, ingestion of powders and dust, or absorbtion of chemicals through the skin into the blood. Pregnant women are sensitive to lead absorbtion due to the bodily changes during pregnancy. Foetuses, and small children under the age of four are sensitive to lead due to being under-developed, and absorb 40% more lead than adults. Lead can be ingested, inhaled and absorbed through the skin. This can occur when renovating, for example if you have lead on your hands then bite your nails, or smoke a cigarette. Also, if you are renovating, such as sanding scraping, or knocking down a wall, you can easily inhale lead dust.

If renovating a pre-1970s house, then test the paint and dust in your home and yard for lead. Carpet can contain lead dust in the underlay, so if removing it, spray with water to keep the levels of dust circulating in the air down. If working on the roof cavity, try to enter through the roof. If you have to enter through the man hole in the ceiling, ensure that dust does not enter into the home. If you are working on plumbing, make sure that you run the water for 5 minutes to ensure that dust particles from the wall cavity are flushed out.

When renovating, wash your hands regularly, as well as before smoking and eating. Don’t smoke near the work areas as you may inhale dust particles. Get a respirator, and wear it while renovating in lead areas, and make sure it is of Australian Standard AS1716 with P1 or P2 filters. Wear protective clothing, and change your clothes after work. Seal off the work area with plastic, and move household items and furniture outside. High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA) vacuum cleaners can be hired to clean up the work area. Most domestic vacuum cleaner filters are inappropriate for filtering lead dust. Wet wash the area with a phosphate detergent then rinse with clean water, do not sweep.

It is best not to remove lead dust yourself, get a professional in to do the job. This can cost approximately $700-$1,000 but price varies depending on the size of the home. If you decide to remove the dust yourself, then the Lead Advisory Service Australia can provide information about equipment hire.

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