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Research into Lead on Vintage Bike

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Research into Lead on Vintage Bike

Old 12-21-21, 12:10 AM
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Research into Lead on Vintage Bike

I am not sure where to post but I wanted to post in order to make this information public, in case anybody else is looking into this.

My story: I am restoring a 1980 Raleigh Technium Competition (see the attached photo), with Reynolds 531 tubing. This model is actually built in the US, being from a US subdivision of the English bike company. I believe it was built in Washington state. During the process of restoration, I became very concerned about the presence of lead. So I am presenting my research on whether or not lead is present.

In 1978, the US banned the use of lead based paints for residential use. Whatever that means, I am struggling to figure out whether or not this means lead is banned from bike paints. In any case, one might believe that they had vats of paint prior to 1978 which they used in 1980. Who knows. I purchased a very cheap lead detection kit containing sodium rhodizonate swabs. The idea is that when in contact with lead, sodium is replaced with lead and the solution loses its solubility and turns purple. Something like that.

So... I used the test kits on the paint. There was no reaction. However, I was a little skeptical of the test because the paint seemed to have a gloss layer, maybe preventing the uptake of lead. So, I tried the swab on the frame. It came back very much so red-violet. This would suggest lead. Note that this is after I manually chipped all the paint off the frame (I used acetone a few times, but I really wanted to avoid toxic stuff such as Citristrip, which I did use a couple times but was ineffective). I also sanded the metal tubes before applying the swab.

Reynolds 531 tubing is a Manganese Molybdenum steel alloy. In addition to iron and carbon of course (that being the fundamental making of steel).

I then found how rhodizonic acid reacts with these metals, according to Feigl and Suter. With iron, the solution is red-brown and then quickly becomes blue-black. Probably not what I was observing (though it would seem strange that I did not observe this, given the overwhelming presence of iron). Or maybe "quickly" is a poor choice of words. With manganese, there is no reported color change. There is no data on molybdenum, nor any other metals in Group 6. There is also no data on carbon. However, carbon and lead are in the same group. I never studied chemistry past Chem 101, so on one hand I would expect C and Pb to have similar reactions being in the same group, but on the other one is a metal and the other a nonmetal.

Summary: I have no damn clue, but a different lead test than Sodium Rhodizonate is probably necessary. I would love to hear if anybody else has looked into this.
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Old 12-21-21, 06:22 AM
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Get a home kit to test the tap water you drink. You'll forget all about the paint on that frame.

What's the goal in your quest?
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Old 12-21-21, 07:21 AM
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I know that lead on a vintage bike will inhibit it's ability to climb.
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Old 12-21-21, 07:28 AM
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Unless you were or are planning to strip paint from the bike with hand sanding in an enclosed space,
I'm not sure that handling the bike with leaded or unleaded paint will make much difference.
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Old 12-21-21, 09:19 AM
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The Romans used lead pipes for water and that may have been part of the reason their society broke down but we are talking a lot of years of drinking that water.

In the 1840's, the Franklin Expedition to the arctic everyone died and it has been suggested for years that as their food was stored in cans that were sealed with lead solder, that the lead leached into the food and slowly killed them. This would have been over two years of exposure. However, when they exhumed some of the bodies and examined them:

​​​​​​"Scientists used a high-resolution scanning technique known as confocal X-ray fluorescence imaging to assess the crew members’ bones. Although the team found evidence of lead, David Cooper, Canada Research chair in synchroton bone imaging, tells CBC Radio’s Saskatoon Morningthat the dangerous element was “distributed extensively through their bones,” suggesting exposure occurred prior to the expedition. Given the prevalence of lead poisoning following the Industrial Revolution (as societies industrialized, they began incorporating lead into everything from paint pigments to gasoline and tinned cans of food), this explanation is unsurprising."

If any exposure to lead is dangerous, surely it would have wiped out many more people prior to it being banned. I can't see how a very minor interaction such as sanding a frame can hurt you. Having said that, we know that lead was used extensively in paint back in the day and so anyone stripping an old bike should do so outside and wear some protection.

Your comment about the use of lead in paint for residential use after 1978 might also include commercial use. The 1978 ban included the use of lead paint for toys and furniture and back then, didn't "adults" consider bikes to be "toys"

Since lead paint was outlawed as a paintcomponent in the United States, if your bike was built in the USA after 1978 it should be lead free, and I doubt that telling the EPA "I'm just using up the lead paint I have on hand" would have placated an EPA inspector.

PS I believe that lead is still allowed in paint used for outdoor commercial uses.
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Old 12-21-21, 09:32 AM
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From a previous post of mine:

I'm an environmental consultant and have dealt extensively with lead-based paint issues. Here are my thoughts:

1. You're an adult so you would need a very large dose to cause you issues. I doubt that sanding waste from a bike frame would represent enough volume to provide you a significant dose. If you have no symptoms (google them), don't worry about it. However, children are highly susceptible to permanent neurological impacts from paint dust. Be sure that you wet mop or HEPA vacuum (NOT regular vacuum) any areas where you sanded to get rid of the dust.

2. Lead-based paint is primarily found in house paints, structure paints, and ship paints, with lead content decreasing through the years before complete bans in the 1980s. There's a good chance that there is no lead or very low lead on your bike frame.It's more likely that lead-based paint dust from window and door trim from your pre-1990s house have impacted the floors and areas around your house than your bike frame has.

3. Also, if you live close to a major traffic artery, the dust from lead in the shallow soil derived from past leaded gas use dwarfs what you could receive from most other sources.

Last edited by davester; 12-21-21 at 09:37 AM.
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Old 12-21-21, 11:03 AM
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Retired environmental engineer and field quality engineer here, if you have already sanded and scrap-ed the original paint off of the frame, the hazard is past now. on refurbishment contracts, the EPA and OSHA, as well as USACE (EM385-1-1, Current Edition) and NAVFC (Ref EM385-1-1 as specified), always had us paint over any lead once it was identified and marked on the contract drawings, or if the presence was a potential future ingestion or airborne particle hazard, a full lead abatement had to be performed, with air and medical blood monitoring of the abatement workers..

Its the release of the airborne lead particles that causes issues. As said above, don't lick your bike's frame, get the new paint applied, and properly dispose of any remaining paint chips or sanding dust as lead contaminated materials.

If you are worried about the exposure from the sanding and scraping operations, most county health departments have the ability to perform the blood monitoring tests.

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Old 12-21-21, 11:23 AM
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I pour fishing jigs w/ lead. Have so for almost 30 years. I get tested for lead annually and so far come up clean

You should have no problems. If you sand off the paint, wear a mask or respirator
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Old 12-21-21, 01:34 PM
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Originally Posted by HookUp View Post
I pour fishing jigs w/ lead. Have so for almost 30 years. I get tested for lead annually and so far come up clean

You should have no problems. If you sand off the paint, wear a mask or respirator
Just treat the frame as though it has COVID.
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Old 12-21-21, 01:50 PM
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Originally Posted by John E View Post
Just treat the frame as though it has COVID.
Yes. Ride fast enough that your nostrils are always upwind of the bike. (And you thought downwind was easy.)
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Old 12-21-21, 03:16 PM
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On a side note that is not a 1980 Raleigh. Technium bikes weren't even on the market until 84. Maybe you hit the 8 by mistake and meant 90?
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Old 12-21-21, 04:46 PM
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In 1978, the US banned the use of lead based paints for residential use. Whatever that means,
Yes for homes. Many paints with lead for other uses still remained. In the mid 80s I was still getting lead based paint from John Deere for equipment and tractor. Also SCL gear lubricants containing lead for anti-wear was still available. By the 1990s this all quickly disappeared along with the curtailment and end of leaded fuels. The lead legacy lives with us in many unseen backgrounds as davester points out. BTW much was predicted as early as the 1920s for leaded fuel and an interesting history of tussles between health advocacy and industrial lobbying is a good read.

Anytime you work with materials, solvents, coatings, etc. protect yourself. Assume the worst and work accordingly.
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Old 12-21-21, 08:29 PM
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Originally Posted by scooterpants View Post
On a side note that is not a 1980 Raleigh. Technium bikes weren't even on the market until 84. Maybe you hit the 8 by mistake and meant 90?
There weren't any Technium even in 1984. They didn't hit the market until the 1986 model year. The OP's frame is an excellent match for a 1990 Competition 531 frame.
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