Techniques > Systems > Finishes > NPS Preservation Brief 28 Painting Historic Interiors >

Caution: Before Painting Know Paint Hazards and Take Action




Before undertaking any project involving paint removal, applicable State and Federal laws on lead paint abatement and disposal must be taken into account and carefully followed. State and Federal requirements may affect options available to owners on both paint removal and repainting. These laws, as well as any requirements prohibiting volatile organic compounds (VOCs), should be requested from the State Historic Preservation Officer in each State.

Below is a summary of the health hazards that owners, managers, and workers need to be aware of before removing paint and repainting:

Lead and Other Heavy Metal Compounds

In virtually all paints made before 1950 [1987], the white or "hiding" pigment was a lead compound, or more rarely, zinc oxide. Work to remove lead paint such as scraping and dry sanding releases the lead--a highly damaging heavy metal — in dust. Lead dust then enters the human system through pores of the skin and through the lungs. The use of heat for stripping also creates toxic lead fumes which can be inhaled.

To mitigate the hazards of lead paint ingestion, inhalation, or contact, it is extremely important to prevent the dust from circulating by masking room openings and removing all curtains, carpeting, and upholstered furniture.

Drop cloths and masking containing lead dust should be carefully enclosed in tight plastic bags before removal.

Workers and others in the room should wear High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters for lead dust (fume filters if heat stripping is being used), change clothing just outside the room leaving the work clothes inside, and avoid any contact between bare skin (hands) and the paint being removed.

Workers should also not eat, drink, or smoke where lead dust is present.

Finally, anyone involved in lead paint removal should undergo periodic blood testing.

After work, ordinary vacuuming is not enough to remove lead dust; special HEPA vacuums are essential.

The surfaces of the room must also be given a final wash with a solution of trisodium phosphate and water, changing the washing solution often and rinsing well.

In addition to lead, early oil paints also had cobalt or other heavy metal compounds in them to accelerate drying. A small amount of mercury is also included in some latex paints to help prevent mildew and mold formation.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Organic paint strippers, such as methylene chloride, and oil/alkyd paints have VOCs as their solvent base. Inhaling these fumes can lead to respiratory and other illnesses, and to cancer.

Especially in closed spaces (but in the outdoor environment as well) these compounds pollute the air and can damage health.

  © 2002-2012 Heritage Stewardship     contact