Look out for lead paint

21 October 2019

South Australian renovators and home improvers are being urged to be aware of the dangers of lead paint, which many of the state’s older homes are likely to contain.

The Department for Health and Wellbeing’s Chief Public Health Officer, Associate Professor Nicola Spurrier, said lead-based paint was commonly used on the interior and exterior of homes and buildings in South Australia prior to the mid-1970s.

“The paint used in many houses contained very high levels of lead as it was an effective colour pigment and made paint durable,” Assoc. Prof. Spurrier said.

“Even though paint sold today in Australia is only permitted to contain trace amounts of lead by law, lead-based paint is still present in many homes, including some built after 1980, and exposure can have serious health impacts.

“During renovations, lead from paint can enter the body by breathing in fumes and small particles, or by swallowing paint flakes or dust.

“Lead in the fumes, particles or flakes, is readily absorbed into the body and circulates in the bloodstream, where it can damage organs and the nervous system.

“Young children and unborn babies are at most risk to the effects of lead and exposure in children has been linked to learning and behavioural problems.

“Exposure to high levels of lead has been associated with symptoms such as joint, muscle and abdominal pain, as well as fatigue and headaches but importantly many people do not feel any different when they are exposed to lead, even though it can still be damaging to the body.”

Assoc. Professor Spurrier said it’s impossible to know if paint has lead in it by its appearance alone, so it’s important to adopt lead-aware practices and take precautions when renovating, restoring or repainting.

“We know that DIY home renovations in older houses is popular, so we are urging people to reduce their risk of lead exposure by making sure they take precautions,” Assoc. Professor Spurrier said.

“If you are about to begin renovating, restoring or repainting and are unsure if the paint contains lead, assume it does if your house was built before the mid-1970s or else have the paint tested.

“Wear personal protective gear, make sure you are using the right tools and methods for the job, and clean up thoroughly before moving the family back in.

“It is also a good idea to consider using professional contractors who are trained and experienced in lead-paint management and removal where possible.

“If you think that you or your family have been exposed to lead it is important to see your doctor to discuss having a blood lead test.”

Pets are also sensitive to lead and can become exposed if they readily lick and swallow lead contaminated soil, dust and paint flakes around the home.

The warning comes as the World Health Organisation launches their annual international lead poisoning prevention week of action from the 20-26 October 2019. 

For more information on lead-aware practices, paint testing and health impacts visit

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