Resident Curatorship Program
Delaware State Parks
Health Hazards Posed by Restoration
Restoring old buildings can expose you to hazardous and toxic substances. Chief among them is lead, which is present in many paints used before 1977. Scraping and sanding, or burning, lead-based paint can expose you to lead-laden dust and vapors. Both can enter your blood through the lungs, and lead dust can enter through the digestive tract. Moreover, a person can carry lead dust in his or her hair or clothing and expose others who were not present at the source of the contaminant. Lead poisoning in adults can result in malaise, short-term memory loss, dizziness, headaches, weight loss, numbness, abdominal pain, impotence, irritability, irrational behavior, insomnia, and anemia. Children and fetuses can experience additional symptoms: severe psychological disorders, kidney dysfunction, stunted growth, and impaired mental development. Your doctor can give you a simple blood test to determine if you have accumulated a dangerous level of lead in your system, and can recommend treatment. Also, the State of Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Division of Public Health (302) 995-8693 can give you further advice on the health implications of lead poisoning and on methods of mitigation. They can also advise you on getting your structure(s) tested for lead.
Other harmful substances found in historic restoration environments include, but are not limited to: asbestos, methylene chloride, methanol, benzene, toluene, mineral spirits, turpentine, plaster dust (alkali), epoxies, paraffin wax, pentachlorophenol, creosote, chromated copper arsenate, wood dust, and cementitious products (alkali).
Curators are strongly advised to know what harmful and toxic substances may be present in their restoration environments, and to take proper steps to mitigate the effects of those substances. The mitigation of some substances, such as lead and asbestos, is subject to federal, state, and/or local licensing and regulation, and curators should be familiar with those requirements.