The EcoWaste Coalition has warned the public not to use paint brushes to apply basting sauce on barbecue and grilled meat, saying handles of some paint brushes contain high levels of lead way above the threshold limit of 90 parts per million (ppm) for lead in paint.
A chemical screening of 20 paint brushes bought by the activist group on December 22 and 23 for P10 to P84 from hardware and general merchandise stores in the Metro Manila cities of Makati, Mandaluyong, Manila, Pasay and Quezon had shown exceedingly high lead levels.
The group used a handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) device to identify and quantify toxic metals such as lead on the mostly yellow paint coatings of the brush handles.
Out of 20 samples, 17 had lead content ranging from 329 to 18,300 ppm.
Significant amounts of arsenic, cadmium, chromium and mercury were also found in most of these 17 samples.
The top 10 paint brushes with the highest lead content are Lotus with 18,300 ppm, Dragon Fly with14,900 ppm, an unbranded brush with 10,100 ppm, Hippo with 10,000 ppm, Camel with 9,643 ppm, 2B with 9,241 ppm, Butterfly with 8,941 ppm, Croco with 8,152 ppm, Yuko with 6,296 and MMT with 5,991 ppm.
“With frequent use, it is very likely that the lead paint on the brush handle will deteriorate and contaminate the basting sauce rubbed on the meat that is eventually eaten by humans,” said Thony Dizon, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect coordinator.
“While further study is needed to determine potential lead contamination, we advise those who prepare food to err on the side of caution and discontinue using paint brushes in food preparations,” he added.
Instead of paint brushes, Dizon suggested food grade basting or pastry brushes in lieu, or, if these are not available, improvised mops made from banana, lemon grass or pandan leaves will serve the purpose.
Based on the group’s inspections, street vendors often use paint brushes to mop sauce on barbecue or grilled meat, or to spread margarine on other holiday favorites such as bibingka (rice cake) and puto bumbong (steamed sticky rice).
The World Health Organization (WHO) publication “Exposure to Lead: A Major Public Health Concern” states that lead is “a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and renal systems.”
“The potential for adverse effects of lead exposure is greater for children than for adults, because in children 1) the intake of lead per unit body weight is higher, 2) more dust may be ingested, 3) lead absorption in the gastrointestinal tract is higher, 4) the blood–brain barrier is not yet fully developed and 5) neurological effects occur at lower levels than in adults,” it said.
“Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, as well as minor malformations,” the publication pointed out.
Lead enters the human body primarily via ingestion and inhalation. It has no known purpose in the body.