Lead testing and surveys

If you suspect you've found lead in your workplace, whether in paint, dust or soil, it's important to get an answer quickly so you can minimise lost productivity and avoid exposing your employees to risk.

Airsafe is here to help. For over 30 years, we've been helping companies in Sydney and NSW identify and deal with hazardous materials like lead. Our rigorous quality systems mean we meet all government requirements around lead testing, so you can relax in the knowledge that our testing is 100% accurate. 

We'll get back to you quickly with a definitive result from a third-party NATA accredited laboratory.

How to collect a lead sample for testing

Here’s what to do if you suspect you’ve found lead:

  1. Carefully collect a sample using hand tools (sample size should be 5-100g).
  2. Place the sample in a click lock plastic bag. You can find these at any supermarket.
  3. Clean your hand tools thoroughly.
  4. Complete this form, click "get printable version" and print out the resulting page. Then put the form and the bagged sample in an envelope.
  5. If you can, bring your sample in person to Airsafe at 93 Beattie Street, Balmain NSW. (Call us first on (02) 9555 9034 to let us know you’re coming.)
  6. If you can’t bring your sample in person, call us on (02) 9555 9034 to make other arrangements.

Lead paint: your old hazardous materials surveys may be out of date

Lead paint (also known as lead-based paint, leaded paint, lead-containing paint and paint containing lead) is defined in Australian standards as paint containing more than 0.1% lead by mass.

All paint manufactured since 1997 contains less than 0.1% lead, but paints manufactured earlier often have lead in higher concentrations.

Until recently, the allowable concentration of lead in paint was 1%. However, the relevant standards were updated in 2017 (see the Guide to hazardous paint management, Part 1 and Part 2.)

These changes mean that old hazardous materials surveys are out of date. Paint that was previously deemed lead-free could now be deemed lead-containing, if the concentration of lead is between 0.1% and 1%.

If you need a hazardous materials survey re-done, request a quote from Airsafe.

safely removing lead paint

Lead paint risks

Lead paint presents a risk to health if it is ingested or inhaled. There is minimal risk if the condition of the paint is sound, but it can become risky when it chalks or flakes, or in places like sash windows where it is subject to frequent abrasion.

Dust from deteriorated lead paint is a recognized source of lead exposure in residential, public and commercial buildings. The peeling and flaking of lead paint may also cause dangerous residues of lead to build up in accumulated dust.

As well as depositing inside buildings, lead paint dust can settle on adjacent external soil, water, food and vegetation. Therefore, food-producing gardens, or water supplies for human or animal consumption, should not be positioned near areas of possible lead contamination.

Lead paint also presents a health risk if is disturbed by paint removal methods like sanding or burning. Even mechanical scraping of lead paint poses health risks. In fact, removing paint can be especially risky, as small particles of dust may lodge in furnishings and carpets, making detection or removal difficult.

Proposed work sites may already be contaminated with lead due to earlier, poorly controlled maintenance or repainting practices. It may be necessary to determine background levels in surrounding soil, or on interior and exterior surfaces, prior to work commencing.

lead paint

Lead paint regulations

The power to control pollution caused by lead hazards is given to councils under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997. Prevention notices with required actions can be issued if a council reasonably suspects that any activity has been or is being carried on in an environmentally unsatisfactory manner.

The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 contains the following clauses, which can carry penalties if not carried out.

  • "A person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace must assess each lead process carried out by the business or undertaking at the workplace to determine if lead risk work is carried out in the process."
  • "A person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that contamination by lead is confined to a lead process area at the workplace."
  • A person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace must ensure that any measures implemented to control health risks from exposure to lead at the workplace are reviewed and as necessary revised."

lead hazard tape

Lead in ceiling dust and soil

Lead deposits are often found as dust in ceiling spaces, or in soil. Lead in dust or soil is often there as a result of previous refurbishment, but it can also be due to:

  • Atmospheric deposits (e.g. from previous lead petrol use)
  • Lead residue from nearby industrial sites (e.g. smelters)
  • Other lead paint removal projects nearby.

If you suspect you may have found lead in dust or soil, it's important to have a sample tested straight away.

Find out how to collect a dust or soil sample for lead testing

Criteria for lead dust levels have not been established in Australia. Lead dust levels are typically compared to health investigation levels for soil contaminants as stated in the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure 1999 (April 2013).

Health effects of lead

The two primary means of lead contamination in humans are breathing in dust or fumes that contain lead, and swallowing food or water that contains lead. High lead levels can cause serious long-term health problems and harm almost every part of the body, especially the brain, kidneys and reproductive organs. Lead can damage the developing brain and nervous systems of unborn children much more easily than those of adults.

Children and adults with increased levels of lead in their bodies may show no symptoms, even though their health is being affected. When symptoms do become obvious, they include lethargy, stomach pain or constipation, headaches and irritability. Children show these symptoms at lower levels of exposure than adults do.

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