Lead paint and asbestos were widely used in the construction of houses and domestic building stock in NSW. Lead paint was used domestically up to 1970 with some types containing up to 50% lead. The paint you buy now contains very small amounts of lead. Lead is still used in industrial coatings and some specialist paints.
A wide range of building and construction products containing asbestos were available up to 1987. Asbestos was banned from being used in fibro or sheet asbestos cement products made after 1982, corrugated products (mainly roofing materials) in 1984 and all other products by 1986. It use was completely banned in 2003.
Treated timber is wood treated with chemicals to prevent decay from damp rot and insect attack. While the chemicals used are toxic, they pose little risk to human health and the environment if used properly. They can become a risk if used in a way that exposes people to high quantities of dust and fumes such as sawing or burning it.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are organic chemical compounds emitted from some fabrics, carpets, fibreboard, plastic products, glues and solvents, some spray packs, paints, varnishes, wax, cleaning products, disinfectants, fuels and manufactured timber. Examples include benzene, acetone and formaldehyde. The rate of emission (off-gassing) from products may decrease over time as they evaporate away.
Many commonly used construction materials can be inhaled when in their powdered form. Examples include cement, fillers, adhesives, plaster, paint and fertilizer. They can severely irritate skin and eyes and damage lung tissue and the respiratory tract.
Where you find them
Materials used in the building structure
- Lead in the form of domestic lead paint, damp coursing, flashing (waterproofing), solder, tap fittings and water pipes.
- Asbestos most commonly as flat or corrugated sheets ('fibro') for walls, ceilings and roofing. Other products include water and drainage pipes, electrical conduit and guttering.
- Treated timber (contains chemicals to prevent rot and insect attack) used in a variety of structural applications, landscaping, decking and in damp environments.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals that are used in paints, varnishes, glues, cleaning products, paint thinners, fuels and manufactured timber. Their fumes (or vapours) can be toxic. All paint products contain many different chemicals.
Learn more about sources of hazards in and around a house.
Materials that have built up in or around the house
- Dust contaminated with lead, arsenic and other heavy metals can accumulate in ceilings, wall and floor spaces and in soil. Sources include past renovations, exhaust fumes and industrial pollution and the dust can be hazardous if disturbed.
- Repeated past treatments with pesticides in and around buildings can contaminate large areas. Older pesticides such as organochlorines that may have built up over time can be potentially hazardous if disturbed.
Materials used during renovations
- VOCs are found in paints, varnishes, glues, paint thinners and other products. They are easily inhaled as fumes. Dust particles from construction materials such as cement, plaster, adhesives, fibreglass insulation, wood (sawdust) and fillers (eg.'builders bog') can also be hazardous.