Lead Based Paint


lead based paint
Older homes are more likely to have lead based paint exceeding in required limits. However, the lead content in paint has been limited since 2013, in line with new legislation.

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The Truth about Lead Based Paint

The debate around lead based paint has become a very emotive issue. Claims have been made in the tabloid press that 60% of all paint sold in South Africa contains illegal levels of lead! This is not the truth!

Colour paints which contain lead pigment compounds are used worldwide. Some countries published guidelines for “safe” limits of lead in paint.

But, lead poisoning is real! Here are some facts about lead based paints.

 Learn about lead

Lead has accumulative (chronic) toxicity and can accumulate in the body.

Lead occurs naturally. Our bodies can deal with small amounts, simply excreting these. However, if the intake is excessive, over time the lead will accumulate in the body.

Metabolic differences affect lead absorption

The same amount of ingested or inhaled lead affects adults and children differently. Children are generally affected more severely, e.g. irreversible nervous system damage and decreased intelligence. Furthermore, this can happen even with low doses.

Curiosity can be a killer

Small children will often put objects with lead based paints in their mouths because of the sweet taste. This has led to the death of many children.

Lead is soluble

Lead is highly soluble (even in water). Furthermore, lead compounds dissolved by acid in the stomach cause toxic harm. Lead crystal glasses, for instance, are not soluble even in water, therefore causing no harm. Therefore, lead solubility in acid determines the danger level of a lead compound.

It is not the lead in paint that is dangerous, but rather the soluble lead compounds in the paint.

Manufacturers take a stand

Ten years ago (2013) manufacturers belonging to the South African Paint Manufacturers Association (SAPMA) indicate that 0.01% is the suitable limit of lead based paints in line with government legislation.

However, only 65% of the paint manufacturing industry are members of SAPMA  since membership of the Association is voluntary. As a result, no one knows what the remaining 35% of paint manufacturers have been doing!

The use of lead is so widespread that very few products are lead-free. Therefore, most manufacturers use the term ‘No added lead’. Such paints can generally be used safely, but should not be used on children’s toys, or objects used by children.

What this also means that homes painted in 2013 and before may contain dangerous levels of soluble lead compounds. Furthermore, the older the home the greater the possibility of it containing excessive amounts of lead in the paint.

Last year (2017), after fourteen years of constant pressure from SAPMA, the government agreed to ban all lead in paint.

Lead in paint stabilises bright colours

Primers and undercoats contain lead-based pigments. They are the best way of ensuring stable, bright and durable paint colours. Furthermore, this applies especially to yellow, red and green.

Lead is all around us

Exhaust fumes have deposited large amounts in the flora. Plant life then absorbs the lead which is introduced into the food chain. In addition, lead content is greater in gold mining and uranium extraction areas.

Where is Lead Found?

Older homes are more likely to have lead based paint exceeding 600ppm. However, the lead content in paint has been limited since 2013, in line with new legislation.

Lead is found:

  • In homes in the city, country and suburbs;
  • On apartments, single-family homes, and both private and public housing complexes;
  • On the interior and exterior of the house;
  • In the soil around a home.
    Soil can pick up lead from exterior paint and other sources, e.g. past use of leaded gas in cars;
  • In household dust.
    Dust can pick up lead from deteriorating lead based paint and from soil tracked into the home;
  • In drinking water.
    Your home might have plumbing that uses lead pipes or lead solder. Call your local health department or water supplier to find out about testing your water. You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and boiling water does not remove it. If you think your plumbing might have lead in it:
    1)  Use only cold water for drinking and cooking.
    2) Run water for 15 to 30 seconds if you have not used your water for a few hours;
  • At work.
    If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. Shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your work clothes separately;
  • In old (vintage or antique) painted toys and furniture;
  • From lead smelters and other industries that release lead into the air;
  • With hobbies that use lead, such as making pottery or stained glass, or refinishing furniture.


A qualified professional should inspect the existing paintwork if you suspect that the paint in your home is lead-based. They have the necessary expertise to remove the offending material.

Alternatively, be sure to ask your InterNACHI inspector about lead based paint at your next inspection. Furthermore, trained professionals use a range of methods when checking your home;

  • including a visual inspection of paint condition and location;
  • lab tests of paint samples; and
  • Surface-dust tests.

What You Can Do

  • Clean up paint chips immediately.
  • Clean floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop, sponge or paper towel with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner. Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning dirty and dusty areas.
  • Wash children’s hands often, especially before they eat, and before nap time and bedtime.
  • Keep play areas clean. Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys and stuffed animals regularly.
  • Keep children from chewing window sills and other painted surfaces.
  • Clean or remove shoes before entering the home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.
  • Make sure children eat nutritious, low-fat meals high in iron and calcium, e.g. spinach and dairy products. Children with good diets absorb less lead.
  • Have a home lead inspection to determine if the paint in your home contains excessive amounts of lead.

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