Lead Paint and/or Asbestos on Old Radiators?


I recently moved into a studio apartment in a large old apartment building in West Philadelphia. The room seemed okay when the landlord showed it to me, but I guess I should have taken a closer look… after living in it for about a week, I’ve started to notice some things that suggest it hasn’t been well maintained recently (cockroaches, musty smell in the bathroom, rusty refrigerator door hinges, rotting wood inside kitchen cabinets, bathroom floor tiles coming up, frayed ceiling tiles, thick layer of dust in the bathroom fan, and more).

I am especially worried about asbestos and lead paint. There are several areas of the apartment in which I suspect one or the other might be, but I’m most concerned right now about the two cast iron radiators that stand in front of the two windows in the apartment (one in the main room and one in the kitchen). Each radiator is painted or coated with some kind of white substance that is cracking and flaking on the side facing the wall, and, with respect to the one in the main room, on a pipe leading into the floor (see attached pictures). Is the white stuff asbestos, lead paint, or some combination of both? Should I be concerned?

Thanks for the help.

No, as long as you don’t lick it, ah, I mean don’t sand it. :):wink:

Answered by Michael Holcomb

Byron Center, MI

Alliance for Environmental Sustainability (Headquarters)

September 19, 2012


Thank you for your question concerning lead paint on the radiators in your home. Cast iron radiators were used for steam and hot water heat. Neither produces heat high enough to vaporize lead oxide.
Lead oxide begins to vaporize at temperatures higher than 525-degrees Fahrenheit.
So vapors are not something that should concern you.

You should be concerned with lead paint chips and/or lead paint dust though. Keep the painted surfaces in good repair. If they start to oxidize, creating dust or chips have them repainted to protect the health of your family.

Removing lead-based paint from cast iron radiators is not a homeowner experience. While lead paint can be remove chemically in place it is a job for a professional.

In the interim keep the paint in good condition and sleep well.

Hi David & welcome.
The “musty smell in the bathroom” could denote an air quality issue.
High air elevations of mold will produce a musty odor.