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.
Recreational activities that require the use of lead need to be undertaken 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. The following hobbies should be undertaken with particular caution:
- 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. The home manufacture of fishing sinkers is not recommended as it is a common cause of lead poisoning. The hazard occurs when the lead is melted down and poured into moulds. It is at this stage that toxic lead fumes are produced and can be inhaled and absorbed.
- the use of indoor firearms, shooting using lead shot or bullets. - 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.
- 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 women of child-rearing age, and pregnant women out of the work area and away from work clothes, supplies, equipment, tools or containers
- Do not 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 that meets Australian Standard 1716. Half-face respirators fitted with type P1 (dust) or P2 (dust and fumes) particulate filter cartridges are most commonly used, but they will not seal around beards or moustaches and a full face cartridge respirator or a powdered air purifying respirator is then needed. Filters should be regularly replaced.
- Wash work clothes separately from regular washing. 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 are:
- adequately ventilated if dealing with solvents, but contained to prevent the spreading of lead dust; and
- easily cleaned - working on carpets is not recommended. Plastic sheets are a much safer option.
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.
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.
Any cloths and other cleaning equipment used should not be used for cleaning anywhere else, otherwise you could easily contaminate other areas.
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.
For more information
If your hobby requires you to use lead products, you should follow the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission’s National Standard for the Control of Inorganic Lead at Work [NOHSC:1012(1994)] and the National Code of Practice for the Control and Safe Use of Inorganic Lead at Work [NOHSC: 2015(1994)].