Lead is a toxic substance that can affect people of any age. It is especially harmful to children, pregnant women and unborn babies. Lead accumulates in your body, so even small amounts can pose a health hazard over time.
Some marine paints are high in lead. This can be a hazard to human health and the environment.
The dangers of lead in marine paints
Lead dust and fumes can be generated from boats with paint containing lead that is disturbed from repairs and maintenance, or that is deteriorating. Boating enthusiasts who strip and paint craft in their own backyards, garages or local marinas could be creating health risks to themselves and the environment without even knowing it.
Lead is hazardous to children and adults alike, but children are more at risk. There have been instances of children suffering lead poisoning from lead in the paint on old boats stored in backyards. The deteriorating paint, whether it is flaking or chalking, can easily be picked up by young children and accidently swallowed.
Lead in marine paints
Although most marine paints available today for recreational boats do not contain lead, many boats have been painted with a paint that is high in lead. If boating enthusiasts doing repairs or maintenance disturb these paints in backyards or garages, or if old tins of paint are used, these marine paints can create health hazards.
In particular, the traditional safety colours of red, yellow and orange contain high levels of lead. Red lead, for example, has been used on a range of hull and above-water line materials such as steel and timber. White lead paints are also commonly found.
Deteriorating paint that is flaking or chalking is of special concern. If you wipe your finger across the painted surface of a boat and the colour comes off on your finger, then anyone who touches that surface is at risk of lead poisoning if the paint contains lead.
Paint containing lead scraped or hosed off boats/ships/punts at marinas and commercial slipways can readily enter waterways and this is a serious threat to water quality.
Keep yourself and your family safe
It is important to avoid exposure to lead dust and fumes. If you are repairing a boat that may have paint containing lead, the 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 (as this can increase your risk of exposure).
- Store supplies that contain lead away from children and mark the labels with safety information.
In the work area
Follow these general precautions. Ensure your garage or work area is:
- adequately ventilated if using solvents;
- contained to prevent dust spreading; and
- easily cleaned, this means that carpets are not recommended as floor coverings in workshops. Plastic sheets are preferable.
Avoid producing dust when working on your boat. Do not dry sand marine-paints containing lead because this will produce a lot of dust containing lead. If you must do the work yourself at home, 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 from other clothes, and shower and wash your hair as soon as possible after finishing the day's work.
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 a high-phosphate solution (containing at least 5 per cent trisodium phosphate, also known as TSP) or other lead-specific cleaning agent.
TSP should be mixed at the ratio of at least 25g of 5 per cent TSP to each 5 litres of hot water. TSP can be bought from industrial cleaner stockists. Sugar soap that contains TSP is available from hardware stores and supermarkets.
Note: Not all brands of sugar soap contain TSP and ingredients are not required on the labels—users will need to check the manufacturer’s website to ensure TSP is present. 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 mopping is the next best alternative if a vacuum clener with a HEPA filter is not available.
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.