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Sensing Lead Paint Using Gel

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

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Scientists at the University of Michigan say they have developed a new lead paint test designed to provide “more clear and accurate results than its counterparts.”

The new test relies on a new molecular gel recipe, the university announced Thursday (Sept. 8). A paper on the work has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Joseph Xu / Michigan Engineering

The development is intended to aid homeowners and renters in assessing their level of risk.

Now in the prototype stage, the test makes it easy to determine whether a paint chip contains more than the regulated 5,000 parts per million of lead, the scientists say. According to the researchers, existing home lead test kits on the market have a “wide margin of error and they produce many false positives.”

How it Works

The test consists of a vial that holds paint thinner and certain salts that, when combined with the right concentration of lead, form a gel.

“Users drop a paint chip in, heat the mixture and wait to see how the solution reacts,” the university explains. “If a gel forms and the gel stays at the top of the inverted vial, it’s positive for at least 5,000 ppm lead.

“If the solution stays liquid and no gel forms, there may still be some lead in the paint but not enough to require special steps to maintain or get rid of it.”

Recipe Reconnaissance

To develop the recipe, the team says it explored crystal growth as it relates to gel formation. Crystals are rigid solids and gels are in between liquids and solids, according to the university.

Next, they turned to the Cambridge Structural Database, a global repository of more than 800,000 crystal structures. The team located crystals that contained lead and narrowed it down even further to crystals that had a particular shape.

"We made the assumption that when a crystal grows and it forms a needle-shape, the forces might be similar to those at work when a gel is forming," said Anne McNeil, professor of chemistry in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and of macromolecular science and engineering in the College of Engineering. "It seems to have worked, but some people think it was a big assumption."

McNeil and her team used these molecules to begin their work.

Pursuing Patent

The development is intended to aid homeowners and renters in assessing their level of risk of lead poisoning.

However, the team also suggests that the findings could push forward new approaches to using molecular gels as sensing agents in other applications as well.

The university is currently pursuing patent protection for the development and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.


Tagged categories: Architectural coatings; Coatings Technology; Colleges and Universities; Health and safety; Laboratory testing; Lead; Lead test kits; North America; Research and development

Comment from M. Halliwell, (9/13/2016, 10:43 AM)

Sounds great that the test is being refined, but it's too late for Canada...our guideline is now 90 ppm, not 5,000 ppm so the test won't work for us here.

Comment from Jesse Melton, (9/14/2016, 7:24 AM)

At no point would I give a US consumer anything they have to heat. Doubly so for a container with flammable liquid inside. i wonder if you can catch a buzz from huffing the fumes?

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/14/2016, 10:16 AM)

It does seem odd to be creating a new test at the 5,000PPM level, and to require that the consumer heat a sealed vial.

Comment from Jeff Laikind, (9/15/2016, 10:08 AM)

The US EPA still uses 5,000 PPM as the standard. According to their web site, the currently approved test kits will show a false negative less than 5% of the time. The standard, as of 2010, is to also have false positives less than 10% of the time. As yet, no approved tests meet the new standard. So it would make sense to try to meet the current criteria before tackling lower levels.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (9/15/2016, 10:47 AM)

Jeff, both the UK and US still use 0.5% (5,000 ppm), so I guess that the UofM is targeting those bigger markets. I suspect, though, that they'll get these test kits certified and to market just in time for both the US and UK to change to the 90 ppm protocol. Jesse and Tom, as much as I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, I have to agree...not a good idea to advise a consumer to heat a sealed container.

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