It's Your Health
Many older homes in Canada may have surfaces that are painted with lead-based paint. Removing or disturbing this paint when you are renovating could expose people in your home to serious health risks. However, you can minimize these risks by following a number of guidelines.
Lead Poisoning: People have known for a long time that exposure to lead can be harmful to your health. Lead poisoning can cause anemia. It can also damage the brain and nervous system, causing learning disabilities.
The risks are greater for children than for adults, because children's growing bodies absorb lead more easily, and children's brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to lead's damaging effects. Even small amounts of dust containing lead are dangerous to infants and children. Lead taken in by pregnant women can also present a danger to the health of unborn children.
If you are concerned about lead exposure, your family doctor can order a simple blood test to measure your blood-lead level. Your doctor may recommend corrective action if the level is elevated.
Lead-based Paint in Homes: The likelihood that your home contains lead-based paint depends on when it was built and painted. Homes built and painted before 1960 probably contain lead-based paint. Homes built and painted between 1960 and 1990 may have small amounts of lead in some of the painted indoor surfaces. Highest amounts of lead were used in exterior paints. There is little concern about lead-based paint in homes built and painted in 1991 or later, because most consumer paints produced in Canada and the U.S. since that time contain no more than background levels of lead (i.e. lead has not been intentionally added). However, some specialty coatings (such as artists' paints and metal touch-up coatings) can contain higher levels of lead, but if they do, they must be labelled to warn against applying to surfaces with which children and pregnant women might come into contact.
It is not always in your best interest to remove lead-based paint. In some situations, leaving the painted surface alone, (as long as it is not chipping or within the reach of children), is safer than trying to remove it. Covering the painted area with vinyl wallpaper, wallboard or paneling can provide extra safety.
However, lead-based paint in your home is a serious health hazard if it is chipping or flaking, or if it is within the reach of children who might chew on it. In these cases, you should remove the paint following very specific guidelines.
There are several ways to find out whether the paint in your home is lead-based. Some independent contractors have special X-ray equipment that can detect lead on paint surfaces.
Another option is to send paint chips to a lab that specializes in analyzing lead in paint. The two organizations that certify labs for this purpose are:
Be sure to contact the lab first, and follow all directions for gathering and sending the paint chips.
It is not safe to use sanders, heat guns or blowlamps to remove lead-based paint. These methods create lead-contaminated dust, chips, flakes and fumes that can be breathed in or swallowed.
You should consider hiring an expert to do the job. However, if you decide to do it yourself, use a chemical paint stripper, preferably one with a paste that can be applied with a brush. Chemical paint strippers may contain potentially harmful substances themselves, so always read the warning labels and instructions carefully before each use, and follow these general guidelines:
Health Canada works with industry and the public to help prevent product-related injuries and to promote safety and the responsible use of household products. Health Canada:
The lead content of consumer paints sold, imported or advertised in Canada is regulated under the Surface Coating Materials Regulations. Corrective action (e.g., product recalls) is taken on consumer paints that contain more lead than is allowed by law. In October 2010, the Government amended the Surface Coating Materials Regulations to significantly lower the level of total lead allowed in paints and other surface coating materials from 600mg/kg to 90 mg/kg - which is equivalent to a lead concentration of 0.009%. This new lead limit is among the strictest in the world.
For more information about lead, visit the following sites:
For more articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health web section
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-267-1245*
Updated: April 2011
Original: November 2001
ę Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2001