Department of the Environment and Heritage
Many auto paints, particularly those on older vehicles, are high in lead and can be a health hazard.
There have been cases of children suffering lead poisoning from playing in soil contaminated by auto paint dust.
Vintage car enthusiasts and amateur car restorers who strip and paint cars in their own garages or backyards could be unwittingly creating health risks for themselves, their families and neighbours.
The dangers of lead in auto paints
Lead enters the body when fine particles of lead in dust are swallowed, or when fumes or dust from synthetic enamels and lacquers from aerosols are breathed in. Dust generated by sanding and buffing is a major risk. It can settle in soil or household dust and become a constant health risk.
The use of high lead paints by commercial auto repairers and spray painters should be done in compliance with occupational health and safety regulations.
Lead in auto paints
Lead colouring agents have been used for many years in auto enamels and lacquers. The highest levels of lead are found in the orange, red and yellow tones, where concentrations of more than 20% are common.
The pigments used in these highly coloured paints are based on lead sulphochromate and molybdate lead chromate. They are opaque and can be ground into fine particles, making them ideal for the high-gloss paints used on cars. They are also durable and resistant to ultra-violet light.
For older cars, the refinish industry can only provide accurate colour matches to vehicles that currently have paint containing lead on them by using the same lead-based pigments. If you are using these products you should be careful when sanding-down old paints and when spraying with new ones. Some older cars may also contain lead auto-body filler.
Lower concentrations of lead are present in the greens, browns and beiges.
Lead driers and anti-corrosives
Auto paints may also contain lead in the form of lead driers (at levels up to 0.5% by weight). They are used on trucks and commercials, and in anti-corrosive pigments in some primers used on new cars.
Many of the paints sold in aerosol cans as touch-up paints contain lead. These spray packs are used by car owners to camouflage small areas of damage.
A major problem with these spray paints is that people often apply them to objects other than their cars, for example, to household goods, furniture and buildings. They should be used only for their prime purpose, that is, touching-up cars.
Keep yourself and your family safe
It is very important to keep young children and pregnant women away from the work area and clothes, supplies, equipment, tools or containers. Do not eat or smoke in the work area. Store supplies containing lead, marked with safety information, away from children.
In the work area
Auto-paint work should be done in a properly equipped spray shop that has dust extraction, ventilation and water-wash spray booths.
At home, please follow these general precautions. Ensure your garage or work area can be:
- adequately ventilated if using solvents
- contained to prevent dust spreading
- contained to prevent overspray from painting with aerosols
- easily cleaned, this means that carpets are not recommended as floor coverings in workshops, plastic sheets are preferable.
Do not dry sand auto-paints containing lead, as it produces a lot of dust containing lead. It is safer to wet sand, and clean sanded surfaces afterwards.
Use a particulate or air-purifying respirator that meets Australian Standard 1716. It should be fitted with a P1 (dust) or P2 (dust and fumes) filter, both of which capture small particles of lead. It should be worn when removing or spraying auto paints. The respirators can be bought from major hardware stores. Replace the filter regularly.
Wear protective clothing and eye protection. Wash your work clothes separately and shower and wash your hair as soon as possible after finishing the day's work.
All surfaces in the work place should be regularly wet dusted, not dry brushed or swept. Clean walls and windows at least monthly. Use sugar soap from a hardware store or tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) from an industrial cleaner stockist. TSP should be mixed at the ratio of at least 25g of 5% TSP to each five litres of hot water.
Mop-down paved areas, garden furniture, verandahs and other places children can access after you have finished the job. This could help clean any dust that has escaped the workshop.
Vacuum only with cleaners equipped with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters. These are the only filters that can capture the small lead particles. Wet mop if you cannot obtain a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter.
Dispose of waste properly
Dispose of waste materials containing lead and water contaminated after wet mopping according to State/Territory or local government regulations. The water should be placed in a strong, securely sealed container. Do not pour water down drains or on to the garden.
Lead test kits
Small kits available from some paint wholesalers and hardware stores can test whether your paints contain lead. However, experience overseas suggests that many of these kits can give false negative and false positive results, although better results are possible with experience.
It can take up to 30 minutes for these tests to give a result for paints that contain lead chrome pigments.
Analytical laboratories can provide precise results. See the Yellow Pages (under Analysts or Environmental and/or Pollution Consultants).
For more information
See our website at http://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/chemicals/index.html