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Lead paint and motorcycles: Should you be worried? 

Honda CX500 rust paint job
Primed and ready for painting

(Contributed article by Check4Lead for our North American readers)

If you start looking around the internet, it is no surprise that the inclusion of lead particles in paint has long been an issue. You really don’t need to go all that far back to see articles talking about the exposure to lead paint and dust being an issue.

In fact, there are still a lot of public housing in New York that suffer badly from the issue, where the most vulnerable are being exposed to the heavy metal every single day. 

While the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 effectively banned lead paint in motorcycles by setting a 0.5% limit by weight, lead has not been entirely banned in paints yet. Although that limit was set with the intention of creating a safe legal limit, the reality is still that lead accumulates in the body. That’s why it is better to avoid it as much as you possibly can.

Why is this simply not a thing you can ignore? After all, I am just working on my bike.

While you may be thinking that it is relatively harmless to be exposed to lead, it can lead to long-term side effects and negative consequences both to your own health, but also if others are exposed to the particles as a consequence of you being exposed to them. What that means is that you may not just get exposed to it yourself when you’re working on your bike, but the particles will stick to your clothing, and when you reenter the house, you will then be spreading all of these particles around the house. When the particles fall on different objects, you may end up transmitting them to other objects that a baby may perhaps find interesting to put in their mouth, at which point they will end up ingesting the dangerous particles.

Alright, but how dangerous are the particles really? 

We’re not just trying to warn you about the dangers of lead in paint without any good reason, and we at Check4Lead have committed significant amounts of time educating the public about the risks associated with the heavy metal. 

It’s not just things like hearing loss and a bad sunburn that motorcycle riders have to worry about, no it’s also the risk of things like lead poisoning.

While lead in paint isn’t inherently bad, it is when it turns into particle form and is released and settles in the form of lead dust that it becomes problematic. This happen in a couple of different scenarios. 

For instance, it happens when the paint deteriorates and starts getting all flaky. That is why the EPA introduced a range of regulations to regulate the working on lead paint affected areas with its RRP regulation. If you are remodeling a home that was built before 1978 and you are doing anything that might affect the paint in the home, you are required to keep very specific documentation to prove that you or the contractor tested for the presence of lead, and if anything is found, a lot of precautions have to be taken, and the contractor has to go through an extensive certification process as well. 

These measures were introduced back in 2008 because lead continues to pose a major threat to the public.

It is also an issue if you are working on an old bike. If you decide to give your bike a new set of paint, you are required to sand it down before the job starts. All the lead particles are released during the sanding process, and if you are not making sure that you are sufficiently and properly protected in the process, you are at significant risk of ingesting these particles. 

So, what happens if I am exposed to lead? 

Lead is one of those nasty things that will accumulate in the body over time when you are exposed to it, and being a heavy metal they can lead to a range of negative health consequences for you, and especially bad ones if children are exposed to high levels of the material.

The Mayo Clinic estimates that there are about 200,000 cases of lead poisoning per year in the US, so it definitely isn’t a topic that should just be brushed underneath the carpet. For adults, you will be experiencing symptoms including difficulty with memory, problems with mood disorders, miscarriages, headaches, high blood pressure and a range of other issues in moderate cases. If you are suffering from an especially severe case of it, death is even on the table. 

For young people, the symptoms from exposure can be much more severe and will be something that your child will be suffering from their entire life. For kids the normal things they will have to live with when being exposed to lead sources including things such as seizures, hearing loss, vomiting, learning difficulties and developmental delay.

While you may be thinking that lead poisoning, and lead in paint is really a thing of the past, the reality of the matter is that that’s not the case. The EPA did a relatively good job in making sure that there was a very significant source that was vastly diminished with the introduction of the RRP rule, based on the previous ban of the substance in residential building projects, but it’s unfortunately the case that there are still industrial uses where leaded paint is very common, and if you have ever gone abroad, it is very easy to either buy products that contain the dangerous paint or at the very least be exposed to deteriorating paint that contains it.

If you read around the internet, the verdict is the same everywhere – with a poorly regulated industrial market, when you are working on a bike, it is very important that you protect yourself. If you have a bike that was imported from a different country at one point in time, there’s also a significant risk that lead was used. Many countries have had significantly more lenient rules when it has previously come to banning the material than the US had. While the law that was introduced in 1992 may have worked to take lead out of a range of consumer products, the term industrial has never been properly defined either, leaving much room for interpretation.

Effectively what that means is that you will be required to wear the proper PPE if you are doing a sanding job, but also that you should be discarding any piece of clothing that may have gotten the particles on it, why contractors will be wearing hazmat suits when they are doing jobs that require lead abatement. Even if congress required that the lead content be no higher than 0.5% by weight with the 1992 regulation, we would still encourage you to use PPE to avoid what remnants of lead may be in there.

While kids are the ones who are the most at risk when it comes to the exposure of this stuff, the actual material comes from somewhere, so you should make sure you properly familiarize yourself with the risks associated with you doing a DIY paint job on that old bike you have standing in the garage. Even if you may have bought a bike a couple of years ago, and the previous owner swears that it isn’t an issue, we at least encourage you to buy a LeadCheck swab and check the conditions for yourself to see if it’s something you should concern yourself with, although we always encourage people working with paint to err on the side of caution.

If you have any questions regarding the topic, or you’re simply curious about knowing what goes on with regards to the government’s desire to limit people’s exposure, we encourage you to stop by the blog on our website where we have a bunch of articles where you can read more into the topic.