“There’s lead in tile?” We get this question quite a bit at Testudo LLC, and the answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Still, it’s a question that requires a little explaining. When we talk about ceramic tile, the lead we’re concerned about isn’t located in the tile itself—actually, the lead is located in the protective glazing overtop the tile. Manufacturers put the lead in the glazing since it increased the tile’s color and durability. Firing during the manufacturing process fused the lead and the glazing, which made the tiles safe to handle, install and live with in a home. As a result, when homeowners (or contractors) go about remodeling tile surfaces there is a big opportunity for lead exposure if the tiles are chipped, cracked or shattered. Just like lead in paint, when these surfaces degrade and are disturbed, they could leave behind a microscopic layer of hazardous lead dust. And if the exposure is bad enough it could lead to lead poisoning. The Ceramic Tile Institute of America provided a great write up on this topic in 2000 with author Judson Bryant. The article is extremely thorough; however, some of the figures he uses are out of date simply due to regulatory updates (e.g., HUD’s outdated lead dust hazard figures are listed). (You can download a PDF of the Institute’s article right here.)
Remodeling Lead in Tile
So what’s a contractor to do when faced with the prospect of remodeling ceramic tile? The answer is simple: Treat it exactly like you would lead-based paint. That means following the state of Wisconsin’s Lead Safe Renovator regulation, as well as OSHA’s Lead in Construction Standard. And if you want to save yourself some time and money in complying with the Lead Safe Renovator rule, you could have Testudo come to your job site and test the tile with our XRF analyzer. If the result is negative then you’ve proved you’re not disturbing lead and, therefore, don’t need to follow the work practices outlined in the Lead Safe Renovator rule.