What is Lead Based Paint?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2019
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Lead based paint is paint that includes lead in its formulation. Lead has historically been used as a pigment to make yellow and white paints, and it adds a number of properties to paint that made it a desirable additive before people realized the danger associated with it. In the 1970s, the use of lead paint began to be banned in many applications, perhaps most notably in residences, although it continues to be used in military projects and road construction in some regions of the world.

The addition of lead to paint speeds the drying process, and it also yields a more durable, long-lasting end product. Lead based paint resists moisture, reducing the risk of cracking and molding. All of these traits made this type of pain an attractive option for many builders and homeowners, as other types of paint could be prone to cracking, peeling, and other problems. In the United States alone, an estimated 75% of homes built before 1978 contain paint with lead in it.


Because lead is a toxic substance, some risks are associated with lead based paint. The common belief is that it sickens children and pets who eat paint chips that have flaked from the wall. While this does happen, the paint usually sickens people in other ways. Inhalation of lead particles from decaying or disrupted paint, for example, is a common cause of lead poisoning, and because it is less obvious than eating paint chips, the problem may only be discovered after signs of lead poisoning appear.

Some people remove lead based paint and replace it with a safer paint product. Care must be taken when doing this, however, as removing paint is a messy business, and it stirs up a lot of paint flakes and dust that could be potentially hazardous. Some companies specialize in removing hazardous building materials like asbestos and lead paint, and the use of such a company is highly recommended. Otherwise, the paint needs to be removed carefully, and people need to wear adequate facial protection and use care to filter and clean the room during the removal process.

People can also paint over lead based paint, although this can cause a variety of problems as well. For example, as the upper layer of paint peels away, it exposes the lead paint, which may be significantly decayed and likely to cause cause health problems. Painting over it can also be a problem for future residents or buyers of a home. When someone buys an older home, he or she may want to request samples of the paint and tile for testing, as the discovery of lead, asbestos, and other hazardous materials could be used to bring the price down or to request a rectification of the situation as a term of sale.


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