Lead: What is it?

Lead is a naturally occurring, greyish metal that is used in a wide variety of consumer and industrial products. It is also a hazardous material. Lead is listed as a carcinogen (probably and possibly able to cause cancer in humans) by the International Agency for research on Cancer. Lead also has a WorkSafeBC designation stating that the substance has an adverse reproductive effect.

If employers and workers do not take proper precautions for work around lead, workers may develop serious health problems. These same health problems apply to everyone.

When and where was it used?

Many older buildings in Canada may have lead-based paint (LBP) on the walls, ceilings, doors, trim and exterior siding and trim. A structure most likely contains lead-based paint if it was built before 1980. If built between 1960 and 1990, the exterior may contain lead-based paint. The paint on interior surfaces may only contain lead in smaller amounts but could still be harmful. Structures built after 1990 should not contain lead because all consumer paints produced in Canada were virtually lead-free by this time.

Lead may also be found in ceramic tile glazing, decorative glass, roof sheeting and plumbing fixtures.

What’s the Risk?

Removing, repairing or disturbing lead-based paint, lead containing ceramic tile can expose workers, occupants and the public to serious health risks: lead poisoning can cause anaemia, as well as brain development deficiencies and central 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 minimize the Risk

To prevent health problems, WorkSafeBC has developed requirements detailed in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations that Hazardous Material Abatement Contractor’s must adhere to when conducting work around, removing and disposing of lead.