Lead in ceiling dust



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Fact Sheet:  

Lead in ceiling  

dust 

www.epa.nsw.gov.au

Lead and your health 

Historically, lead was widely used because it was 

cheap and its properties enhanced certain products.

Exposure to lead is linked with harmful effects on 

many organs and bodily functions. People of all ages 

may be harmed by lead but the risks are greatest for 

pregnant women, infants and children. Factors which 

influence the symptoms and health effects include 

the age and health status of the person, the amount 

of lead, and the duration of exposure. 

It is well established that elevated blood lead levels 

can have harmful effects including anaemia, kidney 

problems and neurological or developmental effects, 

particularly in children. 



If you suspect that you or your family have been 

exposed to lead, visit your doctor for further 

advice. 

For more information regarding the health 

effects of lead please refer to the NHMRC Statement 

and Information Paper on the Health Effects of Lead 

at www.nhmrc.gov.au/health-topics/lead-blood-levels.

Which homes are most at risk?

Many older Australian homes and buildings have 

lead dust in their ceiling cavities, wall cavities, and 

under the floor. This dust has built up over many 

years and may be from multiple sources such as 

home renovations, nearby industrial pollution,  

pre-2002 car exhaust fallout, and fumes from burning 

wood or coal. The breakdown of old lead paint 

maybe a source of dust in older homes (pre-1970).

How lead dust can contaminate  

your house

The dust in your roof space does not pose a risk if 

ceilings, cornices and ceiling roses are in good repair. 

In fact, the dust is better left untouched if there are no 

leakages into living spaces. 

The following home maintenance or renovation 

activities may disturb dust and increase the risk of lead 

contaminating your living areas: 

•  demolishing ceilings or cavity walls

•  adding a second-story extension

•  putting in an attic ladder or skylight

•  installing insulation or new electrical wiring

•  working in the ceiling cavity for any reason.

Wash hands and face

before meals and

after work is finished

Wear a P1 or P2 

respirator

Having ceiling dust 

professionally vacuumed

Move out pregnant 

women, children 

and pets

Don’t smoke in 

the work area

Use plastic 

sheeting to 

contain dust 

in the work 

area


Clean up 

carefully

Wash work clothes 

separately

Use a high-efficiency 

particulate air (HEPA) 

vacuum cleaner

HEPA

Prevent lead hazards from ceiling dust



Note: black trails of dust near cracks or cornices are 

warning signs. Decorative ceiling roses with air vents 

can also let dust into rooms. Water damage may 

cause ceilings to crack or collapse.



What to do

•  Before you renovate or do maintenance work in 

your home find out where the sources of lead 

could be and how to deal with them safely.

•  Pregnant women, children and pets should move 

out until the clean-up is finished or stay away 

from the work area.

•  Before demolishing or working in the ceiling, 

have ceiling and wall cavity dust professionally 

vacuumed with a HEPA vacuum cleaner.

•  Do-it-yourself ceiling dust removal is not 

recommended – it’s dirty and dangerous and 

requires special equipment.

•  Take precautions to ensure dust does not  

enter living areas through the access hole into 

the ceiling. Wear an AS-I716-approved respirator 

fitted with P1 (dust) or P2 (dust and fumes) filter. 

Follow manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the 

mask fits properly. Simple paper masks offer 

limited protection against very  

fine lead-contaminated dust due to poor facial fit. 

•  Wear protective clothing (long sleeves and 

pants) that does not catch dust or flakes in 

pockets or cuffs. Disposable coveralls and plastic 

boot covers are recommended.

•  Lay plastic under the access hole and cover or 

move soft furnishings, carpets, curtains, etc. in 

the room.

© 2016 State of NSW and Environment 

Protection Authority 

Every effort has been made to ensure 

that the information in this document 

is accurate at the time of publication. 

However, as appropriate, readers should 

obtain independent advice before making 

any decision based on this information.

Published by Environment Protection 

Authority 

59 Goulburn Street, Sydney NSW 2000

Phone: 131 555 (environment information 

and publications requests) TTY users:  

phone 133 677, then ask for 131 555 

Speak and listen users: phone 1300 555 

727, then ask for 131 555 

Email: info@environment.nsw.gov.au 

Web: www.epa.nsw.gov.au

Report pollution and environmental 

incidents: Environment Line: 131 555 

(NSW only)

ISBN 978 1 76039 275 8 

EPA 2016/0087 

May 2016 

Updated photo credits June 2016

Photos: Simon Luckhurst/EPA 

Printed on environmentally  

sustainable paper

•  Wash hands and face before meals, and 

shower and change clothes when you finish 

work. If you smoke, don’t smoke or carry 

cigarettes in the work area, and wash hands 

before smoking. 

•  Wash work clothes separately from all other 

clothes using a phosphate detergent (e.g.  

liquid sugar soap). Rinse the washing  

machine afterwards.

•  After you’ve finished, do not sweep or use 

your domestic vacuum cleaner. Wet-wash the 

entire work area and all hard surfaces. Wipe 

any furniture and window sills, skirting boards 

and picture rails with a damp cloth and a high-

phosphate detergent (e.g. liquid sugar soap).

•  Seal the collected dust in heavy-duty  

plastic bags.

•  Dispose of the bags at an approved waste  

facility (call the NSW Environment Protection 

Authority or your local council for details).



Where to get advice

For information on lead and the environment call the 

NSW EPA’s Environment Line on 131 555 or visit the 

NSW EPA lead safety webpage:  

www.epa.nsw.gov.au/lead.

For further information and advice about protecting 

yourself from lead, testing for lead and removal services 

and guidelines for safe home renovation, call The LEAD 

Group on 1800 626 086 or (02) 9716 0014. Laboratory 

lead test kits are available from The LEAD Group  

(www.leadsafeworld.com/shop) or you can buy colour-

change kits at most hardware stores.

Ask your doctor for information about blood tests and 

the effects of lead on your health.



Potential sources and locations of lead dust

Pre-2002 car exhaust fallout

Contaminated soil

Wall cavity and underfloor dust

Burning wood 

and coal


Dust in ceiling

Interior and 

exterior paint

Industrial pollution




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