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Lead and Asbestos

Some homes built prior to 1978 can have been painted using a lead-based paint.

Some of houses built before 1978 can contain asbestos in some form. Both lead and asbestos are now recognized as carcinogenic substances and are therefore dangerous to human health.

Care must be taken when renovating to ensure exposure to these substances is limited. Read our tips on how to do just this.

• Lead

• Asbestos

•Lead-based Paints

Prior to the 1950s, basic lead carbonate was the principal white pigment used in house paints.

Lead-based house paints were mostly phased out during the late 1950s in many states of Australia, however some lead-based paint usage continued until about 1970.

Lead has also been used as a drying agent in some paints in the past.

Oil based paints (e.g. enamels), extensively used from the 1960’s, contained no lead pigments, but had lead added to aid drying of the paint.

Most paint manufacturers have now completely removed lead drying agents from their paints.

Lead poisoning can occur when old paint deteriorates to powder and this is inhaled.

Children and pets are also at risk of ingesting the paint flakes. While anyone can be affected by lead, children under the age of five are far more vulnerable.

Low levels of lead poisoning can affect children’s intellectual development, while in a pregnant woman it can affect the unborn child. Lead cannot enter the body through the skin.

Renovation of older houses can be a strong risk factor for elevated blood lead levels in both children and adults. Dry sanding and sandblasting create fine particles that can be readily inhaled. Burning off leaded paint with a blowtorch causes fumes and is also hazardous.

You can test your home for lead paint by purchase a lead-test kit from hardware and paint stores. If lead is present, and the present paint surface is not flaking or crumbling, it is recommended that you paint over the surface to encapsulate the old paint. Lightly wet-sandpaper the surface first, disposing of contaminated water carefully.

If you do wish to remove the lead paint, don’t use methods that generate dust, e.g. dry sanding (especially power sanding) and sandblasting. Also avoid burning-off the paint. Chemical stripping, wet scraping or wet sanding are the best methods, although great care is needed in cleaning up all residue.
For further information contact the Ore Building Codes Division or Environmental Protection Agency in your state.


In the past asbestos was extensively used in many household products, the most common being asbestos cement sheeting used for cladding. These sheets are sometimes known as "fibro" and roofing.

The asbestos in cement sheeting is firmly embedded in the cement. However, if the surfaces of these products begin to weather, asbestos strands could be released and possibly inhaled. To avoid this, paint over all weathered areas, or better still, apply an acrylic waterproof membrane.

Removal and disposal of Asbestos should only be undertaken be a licensed Asbestos removal company. This can add substantially to the cost of renovations.

Specialist asbestos removalists will take precautions such as:

• Wearing protective masks and clothing
• Using hand tools and not power tools for cutting the sheeting
• Avoiding abrading or breaking up the product when possible
• Thoroughly wetting the product prior to working with it
• Working outdoors rather than indoors
• Wetting any residue prior to sweeping.

For further information contact the Ore Building Codes Division or Environmental Protection Agency in your state.

Realtors, Real Estate Agents And Brokers be sure to refer your clients to:
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