Many paints sold in more 40 low-and middle-income countries, including nearly 70 percent of paints tested in the Philippines, contain dangerous levels of lead, sometimes in direct violation of national regulations, according to a new report released by IPEN, a global network of public and environmental health organizations.
The Global Lead Paint Report gathered data from paint studies conducted since 2009 in 46 low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. The majority of these countries lack regulations limiting the lead content of paint.
“While major producers have begun removing lead from their products in a number of developing countries in Asia, there is an alarming amount of lead paint still sold in all developing regions of the world. It is really quite shocking that a parent who paints their child’s nursery a sunny yellow or someone who runs a colorfully painted child care center may be, through no fault of their own, exposing a child to permanent brain damage caused by lead exposure,” said Dr. Sara Brosche, Project Manager, IPEN Lead Paint Elimination Campaign.
IPEN released its Global Lead Paint Report as part of worldwide activities during the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action (ILPPWA), which began on Sunday October 23 and ends on October 29.
The coordinated activities held in several countries around the world are being co-led by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition to the report, IPEN participating organizations also released new reports on lead in paint in nine countries and conducted lead awareness activities in more than 25 countries.
In a statement prepared for this year’s ILPPWA, Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health for the World Health Organization (WHO) said, “Exposure to lead poses a significant hazard to human health, especially for children . . . There is no need to add lead to paint – safer alternative chemicals can be used. The best way to ensure the availability of lead-safe paint is for countries to put in place laws, regulations or mandatory standards that prohibit the manufacture, import, export, sale or use of lead paint.”
Lead paint in PH
According to the report, four separate studies on lead content in paint sold in the Philippines have been conducted since 2009, the most recent last year, which analyzed 140 samples from 44 paint brands. Among its findings:
69 percent of the paint samples tested contained lead in concentrations greater than 90 parts per million (ppm), which is considered the maximum safe level by health authorities in the Philippines, the US, Canada, and several other countries.
45 percent of the paint samples contained lead in concentrations greater than 10,000 ppm, a level described by one doctor practicing general medicine as “deadly.”
The report notes that the Philippines is making efforts to eliminate lead-laden paint with the implementation in December, 2013 of the “Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds.” The order set a three-year phaseout period, or through December 2016, for household paints, and six years, or through December 2019, for lead-containing paints for industrial uses.
In addition, the report also noted that major Philippines-based paint manufacturers Boysen and Davies are among the first three—the other being Sri Lanka’s Multilac—certified under the global certification program Lead Safe Paint.
In addition to efforts in countries like the Philippines, where IPEN member organization EcoWaste Coalition has taken the lead in efforts to eliminate lead from paint, the report did acknowledge that some progress is being made elsewhere. Since 2009, data on lead paint is now available in 46 countries, with additional data from another 15 scheduled to be available by the end of the year.
In terms of regulation, besides the Philippines, five other Asian countries and four in Africa have either enacted or have pending regulations on lead content. In addition, the East African Community (EAC) has adopted mandatory standards restricting the use of lead in paint in its five member states (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda).
The IPEN report also pointed out that the world’s two largest paint producers, PPG and Akzo Nobel, respectively, have also taken steps to eliminate lead from their products. Akzo Nobel has already announced that it has removed lead from all its paint products, while PPG has done so from its consumer paint brands, and has committed to fully phasing out lead in the remainder of its products by 2020.
The IPEN report made several recommendations to achieve the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint’s (GAELP) target date of 2020 for all countries to have adopted legally binding laws, regulations, standards and procedures to control the production, import, sale and use of lead paints. GAELP is co-hosted by WHO and UNEP.
The report stressed that the biggest problem facing government regulators is a lack of data on lead paint.
“Data on the presence (or absence) of lead paints on the market is currently only available in 23 of the 126 countries that lack regulatory controls on lead paint. Without data it is hard for government officials to establish regulatory controls or to ask paint manufacturers to voluntarily remove lead from their paints,” the report explained.
The report also calls for adoption of a global standard of 90 ppm lead concentration as a maximum safe limit; in some countries that have enacted regulatory controls, the allowable limit has been set as high as 600 ppm, which the WHO has said is still unsafe, citing studies showing that even low-level lead exposure can be a health hazard, especially to young children.
“Recent WHO guidelines indicate that there is no known acceptable lead exposure level for children,” the report pointed out.
The report also highlighted the significant economic cost of health effects due to lead exposure. “When children are exposed to lead, this tends to decrease their performance in school and their lifelong productivity as part of the national labor force. A recent study investigated the economic impact of childhood lead exposure on national economies and estimated a total cumulative loss of $977 billion international dollars per year for all low and middle income countries. The estimated economic loss in Africa is $134.7 billion per year, or 4.03 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” it said.