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Advice on lead paint in older homes

We know that too much lead in our bodies isn't healthy. Over the last 30 years or so, a lot has been done to get rid of it in this country, but you may still come across it in old paint.

This is because up until the mid-1960s, lead was used to make some kinds of paint - for windows, doors and other woodwork, as well as for some metal items, like radiators. A few minor uses continued until the 1980s.

For advice on how to identify and deal with lead paint in your home go to Directgov:

Our leaflet Planning to decorate? Do it safely (PDF) (200KB) contains similar advice to the information on Directgov and below.

Recommended standards for face masks and vacuum cleaners

If you are renovating a house with lead paint present, minimise exposure to dust and debris by wearing protective clothing, gloves and a face mask fitted with a respiratory protective device whose filter conforms to EN143 P2.

3M make a whole range of face masks that comply, as do two other companies, Moldex and Sundstrom.

After work, dust and loose debris should be collected using a vacuum cleaner fitted with high efficiency filters (P2 cartridge filter complying with EN143). Suitable vacuum cleaners conform to British Standard BS 5415. Some domestic vacuum cleaners comply with this standard and are available through electrical retail outlets; industrial cleaners are available through hire companies.

Lead paint and the law

Legislation recognising the toxicity of lead paints was first introduced in 1921 when the International Labour Organisation (ILO) implemented a convention restricting the use of white lead in paints. The convention - ILO Convention 13 "Convention Concerning the Use of White Lead in Painting" - came into force in 1923, though this was not ratified by all countries.

UK Lead Paint Regulations 1927 (which has been superseded by the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 1998) implemented ILO Convention 13 advising on safe working practices when using lead paints.

In 1988, an 8th amendment to the Marketing and Use Directive 76/769/EEC proposed a complete ban on the use of lead carbonate and sulphate pigments (white lead) in paints. However, in September 1989, the European Parliament permitted a derogation in the Marketing and Use Directive (89/677/EEC) allowing the use of leaded paints for works of art and historic buildings. The Directive stated that lead carbonates and sulphates "may not be used as substances or constituents of preparations intended for use as paints, except for the restoration and maintenance of works of art and historic buildings and their interiors, where member states wish to authorise this on their territory, in accordance with the provisions of ILO Convention 13 on the use of white lead in paint".

The UK has implemented the provisions of the Directive through the Environmental Protection (Controls on Injurious Substances) Regulations 1992 (Statutory Instrument 1992/31), which allow restricted use of lead paint in accordance with the 1989 European Marketing and Use Directive. The UK Regulations allow the manufacture and use of lead paint (containing white lead), but in controlled and special circumstances for the redecoration of Grade I and II * (Categories A, B and C(S) in Scotland) listed historic buildings. Strict regulations apply to its use. The general sale of lead paint in the UK is prohibited under these Regulations.

Professionals should refer to Lead at Work Regulations 1998 SI 543, Control of Lead at Work ACOP 1985 and The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994 SI 3140. The Regulations require that any specifier/employer must avoid foreseeable risks to the health and safety of an employee, combat these risks and protect any person associated with or who may be affected by the work being done. These persons should also be provided with adequate information on any aspects of the work which may affect their health and safety.

Professional painters should dispose of lead wastes in accordance with the Environmental Protection (Duty of Care) Regulations 1992. They may need to check with their local Environmental Health Officer and/or Waste Regulatory Authority for any special disposal provision.

Professional help and advice

If you are thinking of employing a decorating contractor or are seeking general or specialist advice on lead paint, you may wish to contact the following organisations.

British Coatings Federation

James House,
Bridge Street,
Surrey KT22 7EP
Tel: 01372 360 660
Fax: 01372 376 069

English Heritage

1 Waterhouse Square
138 – 142 Holborn
London EC1N 2ST
Tel: 020 7973 3000

Health and Safety Executive

HSE Information Services
Caerphilly Business Park
Caerphilly CF83 3GG
Tel: 08701 545500 (HSE Infoline)

Historic Scotland Conservation Bureau

Historic Scotland
Longmore House
Salisbury Place
Edinburgh EH9 1SH
Tel: 0131 668 8683

Painting and Decorating Association

32 Coton Road
Nuneaton CV11 5TW
Tel: 01203 353776
Fax: 01203 354513

PRA Coatings Technology Centre

14 Castle Mews
High Street
Middlesex TW12 2NP
Tel: 020 8487 0800
Fax: 020 8487 0801

Scottish Decorators Federation

222 Queensferry Road
Edinburgh EH4 2BN
Tel: 0131 343 3300
Fax: 0131 315 2289

United Kingdom Accreditation Service

21-47 High Street
Middlesex TW13 4UN
Tel: 020 8917 8400
Fax: 020 8917 8500

Please note that the above are suggestions only. Defra cannot be held responsible for these organisations or the content of their websites.

Page last modified: 9 February 2010
Page published 30 November 1999

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