Heritage Testing LimitedTest For Lead

Commercial Laboratory Lead Testing Services
from Heritage Testing Limited

Hidden layers of lead paintIn the UK, lead pigments were removed from most decorative paints in the early 1960s and completely removed from commercial paints in the early 1990s (although still currently available for specialised use in maintaining and restoring historic buildings, fine arts and textiles). However, it’s widespread use over the last century means many homes and public and commercial buildings could still have lead present underneath the top layer of paint.

Lead Paint Usage in the UK

Widespread use of lead paint in Victorian buildingsPre-1900

Widespread use of lead in paint and varnish in Victorian buildings.

In the Eighteenth Century, white lead paint routinely used on hulls and floors of Royal Navy vessels to waterproof timbers.


Widespread use of white lead (lead carbonate and lead sulphate) as a pigment and drier in decorative paints in houses and other buildings, particularly on wood and metal.

1909 - France, Belgium and Austria are the first countries to ban white lead interior paint.

1921 - The International Labour Organization, an agency of The League of Nations (and now an agency of the United Nations) bans white lead interior paints and take precautions against dust created by dry rubbing down and scraping. The White Lead (Painting) Convention came into force in 1923. As of 2015, the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are not among the 63 countries that have so far ratified the Convention.

1930 to 1955 - Period where actual lead content in paint was at its highest level.


Lead in decorative paints phased out in 1960s

1963 - Under a voluntary agreement between the Ministry of Health and the Paintmakers Association of Great Britain (now the British Coatings Federation), manufacturers start labelling paints containing more than 1% by weight of lead in the dry paint film (with a tolerance of 0.5%) with the warning “do not apply on surfaces which might be chewed by children”. The initiative achieves the removal of lead in most decorative paints, but continues to be generally used in primers for metals.

1968 - At the request of the Paintmakers Association, British Standard 4310 was introduced, identifying low lead paint as containing less than 0.5% lead and labelled as “this product has a low lead content and complies with BS 4310."

1974 - The Paintmakers Association agree with the Home Office to remove the 0.5% tolerance level from the 1963 voluntary agreement.


1989 - The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings successfully lobbies the European Economic Community to exempt paints used for the maintenance and restoration of historic buildings from Council Directive 89/677/EEC, banning the sale and use of lead paint.

1992 - The Environmental Protection (Controls on Injurious Substances) Regulations 1992 implement the 1989 European Economic Community Council Directive 89/677/EEC, officially banning the sale and use of paint containing lead carbonate and lead sulphate, except for the use in restoration or maintenance of historic buildings, and fine or decorative works of art when restoring or maintaining historic textures or finishes. Lead textroxide (red lead) was not covered in the legislation and remains technically available in the UK without special licence, although most UK and EU paint suppliers have switched to safer alternatives such as red oxide.


In April, The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, co-led by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation announce the goal of eliminating lead paint around the world by 2020.

In May, lead chromate pigments were due to be banned in the EU under its REACH process. However, an authorisation application to continue use of lead chromate in paint for specialist use including road markings was submitted by the Canadian Dominion Colour Corporation. After consideration of the application, the ban has been delayed until at least 2022.


Heritage Testing Limited can assist with:-

  • Identifying presence of lead and other toxic metals in paint particularly older paint undercoats
  • Detection of lead in dust
  • Lead abatement – verification that a contractor has not left a building or surrounding area in a contaminated condition after refurbishment works
  • Advice on how to manage the risks associated with lead
  • Advice on cleaning of lead contaminated sites e.g. following inadvertent sanding of lead paint

For more information contact Heritage Testing Limited on 01273 891 785 or E-Mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Paint Toxicity and Risk

An in depth article on paint toxicity and risk assessment, written by us for The Building Conservation Directory 2018.

Lead Safe World Partner