The risks of lead
Some older homes in Canada may have lead-based paint on the walls. Removing, repairing or disturbing this paint through normal wear-and-tear (such as paint on doors, windows, stairs and railings) can expose you and your children to serious health risks: lead poisoning can cause anaemia (a deficiency of red blood cells) as well as brain and nervous system damage.
The risk is greatest for children because they are growing and absorb lead easily. Even small amounts of dust with lead are dangerous to infants and children. Unborn children are also at risk if the mother-to-be consumes lead. Currently there is no known safe level of lead exposure.
How to find out if your home contains lead-based paint
Your home probably contains lead-based paint if it was built before 1960. If built between 1960 and 1990, the exterior may contain lead-based paint. The paint on interior surfaces may also contain lead in smaller amounts that could still be harmful, especially to young children. Houses built after 1990 should not contain lead because all consumer paints produced in Canada and the U.S. were virtually lead-free by this time.
If you want to find out whether your home contains lead paint, you can send paint chip samples to a lab for analysis or hire a contractor who has the proper x-ray equipment to detect lead on painted surfaces.
Should lead-based paint be removed or left alone?
Sometimes leaving lead-based paint alone is safer than removing it, as long as it is not chipping or within the reach of children. Covering the lead-paint area with wallpaper, wallboard or paneling provides extra security.
However, lead-based paint in the home is a serious health hazard when it's chipping, flaking or within reach of children who may chew on it. In this case, remove the paint following very specific guidelines.