Environmental health scientists, child health advocates, governments and paint industry associations are uniting this week (October 21-27, 2018) for the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action.
Calling for protection for the 857 million children aged 0-9 years old who live in countries with no protective lead paint regulations, organisations in 30 countries, coordinating with the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint (a voluntary partnership hosted by UN Environment Programme and the World Health Organization), urge governments to adopt legislation to protect children’s health.
Lead paint, a major source of childhood lead exposure, can cause permanent and irreversible brain damage in children.
Lead exposure, from all sources, is also responsible for a higher percentage of adult mortality than previously thought.
Experts and many paint manufacturers stress that elimination of lead paint is a viable goal, as safe and affordable alternatives to lead additives are widely available.
Paint manufacturers in many countries have developed lead-free paint formulas.
In conjunction with the Lead Week of Action, 33 IPEN member NGOs from 30 countries are launching activities in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, South East and East Asia, and Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia to highlight that children in their countries lack protections from lead paint exposure and to urge governments to take action.
New paint studies reveal need for laws and enforcement
Recent paint studies conducted in The Gambia, Mexico, Iraq and Jamaica underscore the need for enforcement efforts to accompany strong regulations.
Research indicates that legislation alone is not enough to keep children safe.
Not only should regulation set total lead limits below 90ppm in paint and include household and industrial paints, but enforcement and monitoring are essential.
In The Gambia, 62% of paints sampled had lead content above 90ppm.
In Iraq, 42% of paints sampled exceeded the 90ppm limit.
Mexico is an example of a country where requirements to not use lead in paint production is clearly not enforced, since 45% of the paints sampled in 2018 contained total lead levels above 90ppm, the internationally recommended regulatory limit for all paint.
The sampling in Jamaica highlights a national success and an area of concern.
All 35 solvent-based paints for household use measured below the 90ppm limit.
However, one industrial paint with a warning on the label that states, “for professional use only—not for household use,” was sold over the counter without any instructions from the seller about its usage.
The paint contained 150,000ppm of lead.
This dangerously high lead level underscores the need to include industrial paints in national legislation, as also seen in studies from Africa and Asia.
“There are no safe levels of lead exposure.
“It is shocking that manufacturers continue to produce lead paints for use in homes, schools and day care centres knowing that their products can permanently impair children.
“Safer paint ingredients have been available and in use for decades,” said Dr Sara Brosché, Campaign Manager, IPEN Global Lead Paint Elimination Campaign.
“While some producers have begun removing lead from their products, an alarming amount of lead paint continues to be sold in all regions of the world.
“This is why governments must act now to require elimination of lead paint additives and dramatically improve life chances of children in their countries.”
Painting a brighter future
Several countries have enacted lead paint laws in the last 10 years, including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania in Africa; and India, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand in Asia.
Successes in many countries, such as the Philippines, which now boasts an 85% lead-free market, are due to collaborative efforts in which public interest groups engage government and industry in collaborations to promote lead paint laws, leading to growing national markets for lead safe paint.
“Compliance monitoring by designated regulatory agencies is a vital safety control.
“While a number of paint companies have joined efforts to transform the market and show the business sense of removing lead from their paint production by participating in a third-party Lead Safe Paint® Certification programme, too many continue to add toxic lead to their paints.
“A recent paint study in The Gambia exposed that an imported paint product using a “100% Lead Free” label contained lead levels of 100,000ppm,” said Manny Calonzo, IPEN Lead Paint Elimination Advisor and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize 2018 for his multi-stakeholder coalition model in the Philippines and leadership for global elimination of lead paint.
“This highlights the need to adopt and enforce regulations and conduct sustained compliance monitoring to keep children safe.”