Department of the Environment and Heritage
Lead is a useful substance, but is harmful to your health.
Recreational activities that require the use of lead in any of its many forms need to be approached with caution. Consider your families, neighbours, pets and yourself by taking the recommended precautions when using lead.
The dangers of lead used in hobbies
Hobbies can be sources of lead dust and fumes. If you are involved in any of the following hobbies, you should be particularly cautious about the materials you are handling because they might contain lead:
- stained glass work and repairing lead-light windows
- pottery, when using lead-glazes
- car restoration involving lead-based paints
- the casting of lead weights for fishing
- indoor firearms, shooting using lead shot or bullets
- boating, involving the use of high-lead paints in repair and maintenance.
Keep yourself and your family safe
Even small quantities of fine lead particles in household dust or soil can be a health hazard if they are swallowed or breathed in. It is important to avoid exposing yourself, or your family to dust or fumes containing lead. The basic precautions you should take are:
- keep young children and pregnant women out of the work area and away from work clothes, supplies, equipment, tools or containers
- don't eat or smoke in the work area
- store supplies that contain lead away from children and mark the labels with safety information
- always wear protective clothing, including a respirator
- wash work clothes separately. Shower and wash your hair as soon as possible after finishing work.
In your work area
The safest option is to take precautions so that you produce as little lead dust as possible. Recreational activities that include the removal of old paint containing lead, soldering, mixing lead glazes and cutting cames can be particularly risky. Always ensure workrooms can be:
- adequately ventilated if dealing with solvents, but contained to prevent the spreading of lead dust
- easily cleaned, this means that working on carpets is not recommended. Plastic sheets are a much safer option.
Use a particulate or air purifying respirator that meets Australian Standard AS 1716. It should be fitted with a P1 (dust) or P2 (dust and fumes) filter, both of which capture small particles of lead. Most people use a half-face AS 1716 respirator, which can be bought from major hardware stores. The filter should be replaced regularly.
Regularly clean all surfaces in the work area by wet dusting or mopping, not dry brushing or sweeping.
Tools and equipment should be cleaned by wet sponging not dusting. Clean walls and windows at least monthly. Use sugar soap, which can be bought from hardware stores or tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) from an industrial-cleaner stockist. TSP should be mixed at the ratio of at least 25g or 5% TSP to each five litres of hot water.
Vacuum cleaners equipped with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters will remove fine lead dust from the workroom. Wet mopping is the next best alternative if a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter is unavailable.
Dispose of waste properly
Waste materials containing lead, including water contaminated by wet mopping, should be disposed of 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 onto the garden.
Restoration of stained glass and lead lighting involves close contact with lead in the use of cames and soldering, producing lead dust and lead fumes. Scrupulous cleaning is necessary to control the dust.
Lead glazes used in ceramics can be a health hazard. They are most commonly used on earthen and raku ware. Strict precautions must be taken when mixing glazes and firing. If improperly handled, the lead presents health risks to the potter, as well as anyone using the products for storing food.
The home manufacture of fishing sinkers is not recommended. It is a common cause of lead poisoning. The hazard occurs when the lead is melted down and poured into moulds because this produces toxic lead fumes that can be inhaled and absorbed.
Cases of higher blood-lead levels have been reported recently among people who pistol shoot at indoor ranges where high air-lead levels are found.
Auto paints in car restoration
Lead-colouring agents used in auto enamels and lacquers can contain high levels of lead. Orange, red and yellow tones have the highest concentrations of lead, usually more than 20%. Green, brown and beige tones have lower concentrations.
Vintage car enthusiasts and amateur car restorers who strip and paint cars in their garages or backyards, may be risking the health of themselves, their families and neighbours.
Many marine paints, especially in the safety colours of red, yellow and orange, are high in lead. Like automobile paints, marine paints in backyards or garages can create health hazards. Hosing paint away after scraping and repairing boats at marinas and slipways could contaminate waterways.
If your hobby requires you to use lead products, you should follow the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission’s 'Control of Inorganic Lead at Work' [NOHSC:1012(1994)].
For more information
Phone Environment Australia's Community Information Unit on 1800 803 772.
You can ask for fact sheets about lead in stained glass, pottery, ceramics, and house, marine and automobile paints, as well as a fact sheet about lead and your health.
See also our website at http://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/chemicals/index.html.