HWTR Dangerous Materials

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Lead in Dangerous Waste

Lead has been used for thousands of years in many household, industrial and construction materials.  Ecology regulates lead wastes above certain concentrations because it is very toxic to people and other living things.

Lead is a common component in renovation and demolition debris from older buildings. It is most often found in interior and exterior painted wood, siding, window frames and plaster, and lead pipes or copper pipes with lead solder. It is less common in new construction wastes. The Washington State Department of Health estimates 1.2 million homes in Washington have lead based paint.  Most buildings constructed before 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. Buildings constructed as late as 1978 also may contain lead-based paint.

Lead pipe or solder can be found in all but the most recently constructed buildings. Lead pipe would probably designate as a dangerous waste and should not be disposed as regular garbage.  Generally it should be removed before renovation or demolition, separated from the waste pile, and recycled as scrap metal.

Lead is also found in auto parts, such as battery cables and wheel weights.

Health Effects

Workers exposed to lead are at risk of lead poisoning, and can cause lead poisoning among family members. Workers can unknowing carry hazardous substances home, exposing their families and causing various health effects. The long-term effects of lead exposure are irreversible and are much more damaging to children than to adults.  Most cases of childhood lead poisoning are caused by paint, house dust, and contaminated soil in the home and neighborhood, however children exposed to their parent's lead-contaminated skin, shoes and clothing from work and hobbies are at greater risk than other children.  Young children are most at risk from lead exposure, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream, soft tissue, and bones and teeth, where it breaks down extremely slowly.

Workplace or recreational exposure causes most cases of adult lead poisoning. Lead dust or fumes are created when lead-based paint is dry scraped, dry-sanded, or heated during renovation or maintenance. Dust also forms when painted surfaces bump or rub together through normal use. Lead chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled dust can re-enter the air when people vacuum, sweep, or walk through it.  Any workers regularly exposed to lead dust need regular blood lead screenings.

Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry ToxFAQs have the latest information on the toxicity of lead from the Federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Lead is a page at Labor and Industries that discusses worker safety in industries that deal with lead.

Preventing Lead Poisoning in Radiator Repair Work

Preventing Lead Poisoning in Scrap Metal Recycling


Lead-based paint debris from renovation, remodeling and abatement of residences generally is excluded as household waste.  This can include paint chips and dust, doors, painted woodwork and window frames. Older buildings intended for demolition need to be tested for lead concentration to determine if they exceed dangerous waste thresholds.  If so, the structure or it's lead-bearing components must be managed as dangerous waste. 

Samples need to be taken for lab analysis to determine if construction debris is dangerous waste.  For any buildings slated for demolition, a determination must be made if the debris resulting from the destroyed building is considered dangerous waste.  Lead-based paint on older buildings is the primary reason a building or it's components may become dangerous waste. 

Sampling Demolition Debris for Dangerous Waste discusses procedures for this hard-to-sample waste stream.

The Lead-acid Battery Exemption covers the most common management method for businesses that handle lead-acid automotive and marine batteries.

Related information

Washington State Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at the Department of Health.

Lead in Drinking Water at the Department of Health.

Lead in Paint, Dust, and Soil is a page on lead at the Environmental Protection Agency.