The use of lead based paint products before the 1960’s up until the 1990’s came with many health hazards and risks such as breathing problems, asthma and even lung cancer.  Health and Welfare Canada warn that children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning from paint.  When exposed to it for long periods of time, it can cause damage to the brain, nervous system and kidneys.  Inhalation, ingestion and extreme exposure can cause blindness and even death.

Knowing how to find it, how to test for it and how to remove it is important and useful information to ensure you are protected against all hazards of lead based paints.  lead based paints

Water based paints also known as latex paints were formulated in and around the 1970’s.   Lead based paints are paints  that contain lead.   Lead was added to paint as an accelerator for reducing dry times.

Nearly all homes built prior to 1950 and about 75% of the homes built before 1978, contain lead based paint.  Lead paints were produced for the belief of them being able to last longer, resist corrosion and the paint colour would maintain its fresh appearance better and for longer period of time.

Paint manufacturers used to add lead compounds to the paint as a pigment which created a specific colour dependent on which compound was used.

This heavy metal known as lead when added to paint helped to decrease the amount of time the paint took to dry.

Many older homes in Ottawa neighborhoods such as the glebe, centretown and in fact across Canada that were built before the the 1950’s up until the late 1970’s were painted with paint products that contained lead as it was most durable, providing longer wear and colour vibrancy.

It was also believed to be a more moisture resistant paint.  The difference between water based paints and solvent based paints is that with technology today, paint companies have developed formulas to manufacture paint products that are not only environmentally safe but safe to be around and work with, that have the equal durability, vibrancy in colours and last for years.

We may all wonder and ask why was lead based paint ever even used.  One of the biggest reasons is probably that they did not know better.  It was the only product believed to be the most durable and strongest to provide years of coverage without having to repaint often.

It was becoming evident once more and more people were becoming ill with ailments such as asthma, breathing difficulties and some even diagnosed with lung cancer, brain damage, nervous system problems and kidney damage due to prolonged exposure to lead that changes began to happen.

Painters who used the lead based paints daily for house painting were put at risk of developing serious health issues.  Painting for 8 hours or more each day was exposing them to toxic chemicals that made them ill with nausea, suffered severe and frequent headaches and constant overall feeling of unwellness.

Not many wore masks in those to protect them from breathing in the dangerous fumes, but they did  not know any better.  They did not know that these fumes and odours were the toxic chemicals being released into the air they were breathing and that eventually would cause them lung cancer, brain damage and other health problems.

The Risks of Lead Based Paint

Lead poisoning and exposure to lead in a home poses the greatest risks of poisoning to children as they are the most vulnerable while they are still growing and developing and can easily be damaged by these chemicals.

If you have little ones and are living in an older home where the risk potential can be you can have the children tested for lead poisoning as early as 6 months of age and repeat it at 12 and 24 months of age.  Lead poisoning can cause low IQ, attention problems, slower developmental and learning disabilities or anaemia which is a deficiency of the red blood cells.

Unborn children are at risk if their expecting mother consumes or is exposed to lead. Small amounts that may even be in the dust particles in our homes are dangerous to infants and children.

From the paint used on the walls, windows, doors, & ceilings all can put you and your family at risk for serious health problems.  Removal of lead based paint without proper protection causes a bigger risk to both children and adults.  Airborne particles, dust or chipped, peeling paint all can be causes of lead poisoning.  These issues are usually related to homeowners doing home renovations.

If the paint is not cracked, peeled, broken or chipped and if no drywall is broken down in the renovations in other words as long as the paint is not disturbed in any way then it poses less of a danger.  Only once it has been disturbed broken, chipped in most cases in the renovation process that it then becomes the bigger danger.  The biggest risk that lead poisoning poses  is for children who tend to absorb it more as they grow.

There is no current “safe” level of exposure to any lead, so precautions must be taken.

How To Know If Your Home Has Lead-based Paint

In order to protect yourself and your family including the unborn and small children you must take the necessary steps to ensure your home is free of lead-based paint.
Knowing if your Home contains Lead-Based Paint will provide you with the safety in knowing you can breathe easier. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself so that you can tell if you have lead-based paints in your house.

  • Was your home built before 1960
  • Is the paint chipping
  • Is the paint peeling
  • Is the paint flaking or cracking

If your home was built before 1960 it may be likely your walls, ceilings, trim, baseboards, doors and windows have been painted with lead based paints.

Lead-free paints only started to come into play in and around 1990.  All homes after 1990 were built with lead free materials and painters used only lead-free paint products.

If this is your case and you live in a house built before 1960 similar to older areas in some Ottawa neighborhoods like The Glebe, Little-Italy-Preston Street Area, Lebreton Flats, Westboro, Dow’s Lake, Beechwood-Vanier or Rockcliffe you are better off leaving the lead-based paint alone.

It is safer to leave it than to remove it because disrupting it, similar to asbestos may create more of a hazard in the air and in your home.  It’s not always the case but if you have questions or concerns it’s best to check with our Canadian Government website for health services and information.

How To Test For Lead Based Paints In Your Home

Lead paint can be found inside and outside of homes.  The most common places or areas where lead based paints may have been used both for interior and exterior painting is around window sills and trim, the walls, doors and frames, crown molding and on soffits and fascia.

Lead-based paint can be removed but has guidelines and precautions to be adhered too before it can be removed.

The best and safest way to remove lead based paint is by a process called “abatement”.  This is when you hire a professional to safely remove it to reduce the risk of any harm to homeowners and their families as well as the person or persons performing the abatement procedure.  Note that it can cost on average anywhere from $5,000.00 to $8,000.00 for a single family home.

Be sure to hire a contractor as they must be an accredited/certified professional who has the expert knowledge and safe equipment to diagnose the lead issue.  Everyone must vacate the property when an abatement procedure is done.

If you want to attempt removal on your own, be sure to take all precautions before getting started.

Choose a spot like the window sill or frame, or even the front door to scrape away at the layer or layers of paint.  Be sure to wear a face mask that is also a respirator type the usual face masks are not sufficient to ensure that no harmful exposure to tiny particles of dust or fumes are not breathed in.  Wear goggles and gloves and something to cover your clothing such as coveralls.

Ensure that everything is covered before you attempt removal to ensure your safety.  While testing and removing you must wash hands every time you leave the area.  You must not eat, drink or smoke while performing the stripping of the lead paint.

Make sure that any furniture, drapes or rugs are either removed or at minimum safely covered with a plastic tarp and wrap it twice over to ensure no dust particles drop onto any of these surfaces.  Seal all air vents and cover windows and doors in plastic double wrapped and taped around the frame. Be sure to cover all doorways, entry ways, vents with the plastic to prevent paint particles from spreading throughout the home.

The use of sanders, heat guns or lamps are dangerous to use because they create toxic dust and fumes and spread the lead around.  Do Not use anything that may cause a spark or static electricity in the work area.

Set up a fan or fans that blow air out through an open window. This will ensure the area or room you are working in is well ventilated and fumes are blowing away from you.

The area must be well ventilated while using the appropriate stripping product as the chemical is very strong and the fumes should not be breathed in.  Always read the labels carefully before beginning use.

At the end of every day as the process may take a few days, hence the expensive abatement fees, the area must be securely sealed and closed off.  Using a hazardous waste container to safely dispose of of the lead based paint scrapings and any other  waste like the gloves and goggles and respirator mask.

After all is done and the process is completed it is recommended to wait at minimum a day to ensure all dust particles have settled before entering the room to clean up.

Types of Testing For Lead Based Paints

The different types of testing to see if there is lead in the paint around your home is by sending paint chips to a lab for analysis.

In a lab they will test the sample layer by layer in a protected and isolated area.

Another method to test for lead paint is by X-Ray and flourescent light which does not disturb the paint surface in any way.  Specialized professionals will use a portable detector that will be placed on the surface and take an x-ray of how much lead is contained in the many layers of paint on the surface.

The least effective method of testing for lead paint is the swab test.  It is the least effective way because when the pre-soaked swab that contains chemicals to help detect is swiped or applied to the surface area where lead may be, it can be difficult to detect due to the several layers of paint that may be present.  Therefore a swab test does not get deep enough into the surface to definitely detect lead.

You may be able to find and hire either general contractors or painting contractors, who have the equipment, licence and certification to do the lead testing.   They may be able to help you diagnose it by providing an inspection with the proper x-ray equipment to detect the lead on all painted surfaces.   Be sure to check if they have all the safe certifications to perform the tests.

painting of exterior of house in city of Ottawa by PG PAINT & DESIGN painters

Reduce the Risk of Lead Poisoning

You can reduce the risk of lead poisoning by doing some of the following essential and important steps.

Ensure that there is no paint chipping, peeling, flaking or cracking that small children can touch and possibly ingest.  Take extra precautions if you are pregnant and for small children as the risks are higher for health complications.

Be sure to only hire professional experts to remove any lead.  It can be expensive to hire a professional to perform an abatement procedure but it is worth the peace of mind for you and your family’s health.  Have them show you appropriate documentations/accreditations to prove they are specialied in the removal of lead as this may otherwise be a risk to you, your family as well as the individual who claims to know what they are doing.  In other words do not just take their word for it, investigate and have them produce the documentation before you let them proceed.

If you insist on doing the removal of lead yourself, then make sure to take all precautions.  Wear safety gear such as gloves, eye protection, clothing protection and a proper respirator type mask. If you get any of the chemical stripper on your skin – wash it off immediately as well.  Always read the instructions and directions before you begin and if you have a serious concern call your local poison control centre or public health office.

Be sure to remove any clothing that has been worn while performing the process of removing or testing for lead immediately and wash separately or completely dispose of it safely as a “hazardous waste”.  Always check with your local municipality on how to dispose of hazardous waste materials.  The City of Ottawa has such disposal areas set up at different locations throughout the year.  Check the list of dates and Locations in Ottawa to dispose of hazardous waste and special materials.

Try to work in 10 minute intervals when using the chemical stripper to remove lead-based paints as this will allow you to take the necessary time to leave the area, get some outdoor fresh air.  If you begin to feel dizzy, confused, disoriented, begin to experience a headache or develop breathing issues you must leave the area immediately and get outdoors to breath fresh natural air.

If your house was built after 1990 your home should be free of any lead-free paint due to our government imposing stricter laws and regulations for both home builders and the paint manufacturing companies.

Since around the 1990’s Canada and the United States have been producing paints that are virtually lead free.  You can read more of the information and documents on the Canadian Health Canada Website regarding questions on contaminants and lead to find all information and facts  on paint.

Once you have had the abatement process performed and the area is safe to work with and you need to hire a professional painter for either interior painting or exterior painting contact Ottawa House Painters 


This post was originally published on May 2, 2017 at 08:00 and edited on 14 Mar 2020, at 19:56