LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News vol 4 no 4 Spring 1996  ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Lead in Childcare Centres and Schools

By Robin Mosman, Information and Referral Project Officer,
NSW Community Lead Advisory Service

Sources of Exposure to Lead in Childcare Centres and Schools

Leaded paint on any building painted prior to 1970. This is of particular concern as many preschools and playgroups with their vulnerable populations operate in old buildings, often with badly deteriorating paint;

Lead from petrol emissions. Many childcare centres and schools are situated on busy roads and nearly 40% of Australia’s cars still use leaded petrol.

Historical lead from deteriorated paint or unsafe paint removal in the surrounding area, old petrol and/or industry emissions, which is present in the dust in playgrounds and is blown and walked into the school buildings.

Some schools and neighbourhood centres offer leadlighting as an activity in their art courses.

Leaded Paint

Paints used on Australian childcare centres and schools constructed before 1970 are likely to contain some high lead concentrations. Before 1950, some paints contained as much as 50% lead. Today, the recommended maximum amount of lead allowed in domestic paints is 0.25%. It will be further reduced to 0.1% in December 1997.

Paint containing lead is most likely to be found on window frames, doors, skirting boards, cupboards, exterior walls, fascias, gutters and metal surfaces. It can also be found on interior walls and ceilings, and any area with enamel paint.

This paint can create a lead hazard when it deteriorates by peeling or chalking, or if it is removed in a way that turns it into a fine dust during renovation or repainting. Leaded dust can settle onto all horizontal surfaces in a building, onto furniture, carpets, books and equipment. Outside, it can contaminate the soil and dust, and settle on play equipment and benches, and be blown or walked into the childcare or school buildings.

It can also be a hazard when it is on surfaces where there is friction (windows) or impact (doors) where it will create dust, or on railings where children could touch or chew it.

Petrol Emissions

Lead has been added to petrol since the 1920’s, and despite being banned as an additive in the USA and many European countries, is still being used in about 30% of petrol sold in Australia.

Although leaded petrol is being phased out, huge environmental lead contamination from combustion of leaded petrol has occurred and there is much evidence that it has added significantly to body lead burdens.

Lead particles are emitted from car exhausts in 2 distributions. The larger particles fall to the ground within about 30 metres of the point of emission. The finer aerosol particles are much more widely distributed. Most lead is emitted from the exhaust of a vehicle when it starts moving after having been stationary, or when the engine is under strain.

Many older childcare centres and schools are located on roads which are very heavily trafficked, and many new pre-schools are being built on busy roads.

Historical Lead

Lead is present in dusts and soils primarily because of its use in leaded paint and its fallout from the air. Old, deteriorating buildings, proximity to busy roads, and industry sources such as lead mines; primary and secondary lead smelters, lead acid battery plants, waste-oil burning industries and municipal incinerators all contribute to potentially toxic concentrations of lead in dusts and soils.

Some pre-schools have been approved for location on old petrol station sites, where leaking underground tanks could have caused additional soil contamination.

Leadlighting Courses

These have been offered in some high schools of recent years, sometimes under very unsafe conditions. Courses for adults are often offered in neighbourhood centres which are also used for playgroups and other children’s activities.

What can be done to make childcare centres and schools safer from lead?

If the building is old, or in an old area, or located near a busy road, have the premises assessed by a lead assessor, to ascertain whether there is a lead problem, either in the paint, soil outside and/or dust inside.

If there is a problem, the lead assessor’s report should prioritise what action needs to be taken to abate the problem.

It is not possible within the scope of this article to describe the whole range of abatement measures available. Some can only be done by trained people; most can be done by anyone prepared to properly research the necessary procedures, and take the time and care necessary to carry them out faithfully.

The following basic information may be helpful.

To Abate Leaded Paint

Engage a qualified lead paint removalist, or follow instructions for safe lead paint removal in the ‘Lead Alert’ booklet published by the federal Environment Protection Agency.

Petrol Emissions

Heavy evergreen tree and bush planting between the road and the school or childcare centre somewhat mitigates emissions, especially with mounding

Locate playing areas as far from the road as possible.

Maintain good grass cover and/or paving over the playing areas.

Historical Lead

The most effective way of dealing with historical lead is to prevent it from getting into the childcare centre or school in the first place. Matting is now available which can be placed at entrances to building and which will wipe a lot of the potentially leaded dust from people’s shoes as they come in.

It is impossible to remove all lead from carpets. Moppable floor surfaces, such as cork, vinyl or lino, are best used whenever possible.

Lead-aware housekeeping measures can be very effective in keeping down lead levels in childcare centres and schools. These are particularly important in childcare centres and playgroups, where firm cleaning protocols should be established. These should include:

Vacuuming with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter industrial vacuum cleaner after children leave in the afternoon. Studies show that filters in ordinary vacuum cleaners do not filter out the finest lead particles, they simply redistribute them.

Wet-wiping floors and furniture in the mornings before the children arrive.

Regular washing of toys and play equipment. Consider disposing of non-washable items.

Young children’s faces and hands should be washed often, with soap and a face washer, and always before eating. Fingernails should be kept short and a nail brush used regularly. Wet hands collect more dust, so dry them thoroughly.

Leadlighting Courses

Proof of lead-safe practises should be requested before permission to continue or start leadlighting courses in any premises used by children.


Because of the vulnerability of the children for whom they cater, childcare centres and playgroups should be the major focus of efforts to prevent childhood lead poisoning. The LEAD Group advocates that Certificates of Lead Safety be compulsory for licensing of any centre where young children gather. You can lobby for this with your local Council and with the Department of Community Services.

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Last Updated 27 November 2012
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