This article is from the Old-House Journal, a monthly newsletter specializing in restoration of vintage homes. Free sample copies can be obtained by writing: The Old-House Journal, 199 Berkeley Pl., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11219.
Any house built before 1940 probably has some covering of lead paint. So every old-house owner should be aware of its potential hazards.
Lead can be absorbed both from the dust created by sanding and scraping lead paint or from the vapors created by burning paint off with a blowtorch or propane torch. Using torches inside is especially dangerous because the vapors become more concentrated.
The safest way to remove lead paint is with an electric hot-air blower. The heat gun -- which has a low fire risk -- is efficient and easy to operate. The hot air softens and lifts the paint. No toxic lead fumes are created because the gun's operating temperature is lower than lead's volatilization temperature.
Chemical removers also can be used to strip paint without danger of lead poisoning. Chemical removers, however, have their own problems (toxicity or fire hazards). Dip tanks, where appropriate, also can be used to remove lead paint safely.
The residue of removed lead paint still presents a hazard and should be packaged and disposed of properly.
It should be emphasized that lead paint that remains tight to the wall presents no hazard to the house's occupants. It is only when the paint comes off -- through peeling or active removal -- that the danger is created.
If it is ever necessary to sand lead-based paint, do it outdoors if possible and be sure to wear a good-quality, tight-fitting dust mask.
There is a simple procedure you can follow to find out whether your paint contains lead. It is called the "sodium sulfide test" or "spot test." It is based on the principle that a drop of sodium sulfide solution will turn black in contact with lead paint.
Roger A. Resberger, of the Lead Paint Poisoning Project at the National Bureau of Standards, provided this description of the spot test: $99See DANGERS, E14
1. Wash any dirt, grease or oil from the area you wish to test. Dry it thoroughly.
2. Scratch a corner of the painted surface to expose any hidden layers of paint. The test may also be performed at the edges of cracked or chipped paint, providing that all layers of paint are exposed.
3. Apply a drop of the sodium sulfide solution with a medicine dropper.
4. After 90 seconds, check the solution drop for color. It will turn gray to black if lead paint is present. If it remains colorless, there is probably no lead in the paint.
Note: The sodium sulfide solution will not change color if the old lead paint has been covered with a non-lead paint. That's way it is necessary to scratch through all layers to expose a sample of every paint present.
One caution in interpreting results: A few uncommon forms of lead in paint will not produce a color change in the spot test. Also, if the paint is dark in color, it may be difficult to observe the color change in the sodium sulfide drop.
Local pharmacists can prepare the spot-test solution by dissolving sodium sulfide in distilled water to form a 5-to-8 concentration. An ounce of the solution will be enough for several dozen tests. Some pharmacists may require a doctor's prescription to fill a request for the chemical solution.
It is also possible to make the test solution from a photographic chemical, Kodak Sepia Toner (NU) 1691757. Although other manufacturers make sepia toner, only the Kodak product contains enough sodium sulfide to react with lead paint.
To mix the solution, use only Part B of the two-part package. Fill a clean glass container with one pint of distilled water. Pour Part B toner into the water while stirring with a clean device made of glass or plastic. (Do not use metal.) Mix solution thoroughly and transfer two to four ounces of it to dark glass bottle fitted with an eyedropper.
(The solution must be protected from sunlight and it should not come in contact with metal bottle caps or container lids.)
CAUTION: Sodium sulfide is poisonous. Keep the solution out of children's reach. Do not allow it to come into contact with eyes. In case of accidental ingestion, notify a physician immediately. Dispose of any excess solution by pouring it down a sink and flush with plenty of water.
Other restoration hazards are:
A puncture wound -- and the lockjaw that could result. Be sure your tetanus shots are up date.
Inhaling plaster dust.