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QUESTION: If cabinets bought in Beijing have a strong smelling paint, could it be lead paint? 02/05/09   New South Wales, Australia

Iím not sure if you can help with this.  I bought two cabinets when I was in Beijing.  They are painted in a distressed style with white paint and colourful flowers.  I asked at the time whether it was lead paint and was told that it wasn't.  They had a strong smell coming from them which worried me, but I was assured that it would disappear after a couple of weeks.  Well, the smell is better, but it's still there.  So, now I am worried that it is lead paint especially given there is one cabinet in each of my two daughter's bedrooms.  Can you suggest that I can do to determine whether the paint is OK or not?  Thank you in advance.

Nicole

ANSWER: May  4 2009

Dear Nicole,

lead in paint does not smell unless someone applies a high temperature heat gun or flame to the paint and exceeds the fuming temperature of lead. At that point, you would be able to smell the lead as a metallic smell. Thus, the bad smell emanating from the paint is an unrelated problem to the potential problem that the paint is leaded. In relation to the bad smell of the paint, you could make a complaint to the retailer but it's unlikely to achieve anything. Had the retailer been in Australia, I would suggest making this complaint and then, if you were unhappy with any resulting action taken to remedy the situation, you could report them to your state consumer affairs agency. Having imported the product yourself however, if the smell remains, you have only a couple of options. Leave the furniture out of the children's breathing space eg in a covered area outside to see if the smell lessens, OR discard the items. I am not at all sure that painting over the smelly paint is going to be successful. As regards the possibility of there being lead in the paint, as long as you understand that there may be lead in the paint (because the cabinets were not purchased in Australia and the paint was presumably therefore not tested for lead by Customs or any importer or retailer here) and as long as the paint is in good condition and not being chewed on by a pet or a child, then it is not harmful until something happens to release the lead as fume or dust. A house fire is the worst case scenario but people mainly concentrate on the fire damage rather than the toxics released by a fire so that's a hypothetical concern. Knowing that the paint might be leaded, you can ensure that no one ever uses a heat gun or flame to remove it or dry sanding or dry scraping to prepare it for re-painting. If you want to know for sure whether there is too much lead in the paint, then a colour change test from the hardware store will turn pink if the paint contains more than 0.5% lead. If you want to know more precisely how much lead is in the paint, you can purchase a DIY-sampling kit from us and follow the instructions and use the kit to slice off some of the paint with a sharp clean blade (without getting any substrate in the sample) and send the paint sample to the lab for lead analysis. Two samples can be tested using the Basic Kit $120 or $100 for LEAD Group members or 8 samples can be tested using the Comprehensive Kit $275 or $250 for LEAD Group members (ie you pay for the lab analysis cost in the kit cost) Join The LEAD Group today! Membership is only $5 per annum. Unfortunately different colours in the flowers on the cabinets may contain different levels of lead and the white could also contain lead.

I hope this information helps with your decision making.

All the best

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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