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Study: High-Lead Paint Persists in Asia

Friday, March 28, 2014

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Long banned in the U.S. and Europe, architectural paint with lead—a lot of lead—is still widely available in Asia, the world's largest coatings market, a new study concludes.

In a sweeping analysis of 803 paint cans from 404 brands across seven Asian countries, the Asian Regional Paint Report  found “extreme levels” of lead in many paints manufactured and sold for household use in developing countries.

IPEN Lead Paint Study
Asia Regional Paint Report March 2014, IPEN

Researchers analyzed 803 cans of paint representing 404 different brands.

Three-quarters (76 percent) of the oil-based, enamel decorative paints purchased in seven Asian countries contained lead at concentrations higher than 90 ppm (the standard in the U.S.), concluded the study, funded by the European Union.

At least one-quarter of the samples contained levels above 10,000 ppm, according to the researchers from IPEN (International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network).

Comprehensive Review

Multiple studies between 2006 and 2011 have shown that many paints with high lead content have been widely available in these countries. However, IPEN said, the number of paints previously analyzed has been limited and, in some cases, focused on multinational paint makers.

This study included small and medium-size paint manufacturers and aimed to determine if the availability of heavily leaded paints had changed. No manufacturers were identified individually.

Asia Regional Paint Report March 2014

The study, conducted from November 2012 to February 2013, found that 76 percent of oil-based, enamel decorative paints purchased in seven Asian countries contained lead at concentrations higher than 90 ppm (the standard in the U.S.).

In each country, one or more of the tinted paints analyzed contained lead levels above 95,000 ppm, the report relates.

Eliminating Lead Paint

Conducted as part of the Asian Lead Paint Elimination Project, the study looked at paints in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The project was established to eliminate lead in paint and raise awareness among business owners and consumers about the human health impacts of lead-based household paints, especially their effect on children under six years of age.

The World Health Organization has determined that there is no safe level of childhood lead exposure.

“Even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and, in some cases, irreversible neurological damage,” according to WHO.

Balifokus Foundation, Indonesia; IPEN report

Brightly colored paints contained much higher levels of lead than white paints, according to the study.

The heavy metal was used in the formulation of paints and coatings to speed up drying and increase durability. However, a number of industrialized countries have banned the use of added lead in paints.

The United States banned lead in household paints in 1978, although paints that contain lead are still used in industrial and protective applications.

Despite the bans and reported health hazards, lead in paint remains one of the largest sources of lead exposure globally, according to the project organizers.

Study Details

According to the study, which was conducted from November 2012 to February 2013, brightly colored paints, such as red, yellow, and green, contained much higher levels of lead than white paints.

Asia Regional Paint Report

Some paints with extremely high levels of lead were labeled "lead free," the EU-funded research project found.

In several countries, the average lead content for colored paints was more than 10 times higher that of  white paints, the researchers report.

They also reported that some market-leading brands have removed lead from their paint production. Thus, paints with undetectable levels of lead were available in all countries, at prices similar to lead-containing paints.

Furthermore, paints that contained lead did not disclose that on the label in any country analyzed. Nor did the labels include any warnings about the hazards of lead or lead dust.

In fact, 95 paint cans included claims that they were “lead-free,” although 17 contained levels of lead ranging from 230 ppm to 56,000 ppm, the team reported.


The Asia Pacific region has become the largest market for paints and coatings in the world, representing 35 percent of the nearly $90 billion global coatings market, the report said.

IPEN recommends that the countries work quickly to approve regulations to ban the manufacture, import, export, distribution, sale and use of paint with total lead content above 90 ppm.

Of the seven countries included in the study, only Sri Lanka had a mandatory standard in place during the study period. The country limits the lead content in decorative enamel paints to 600 ppm. The Philippines passed legislation in December 2013 prohibiting lead levels in decorative paint above 90 ppm.

IPEN report

The study was conducted as part of the Asian Lead Paint Elimination Project, which was established to eliminate lead in paint and raise awareness about the health impact of lead-based decorative paints.

India and Thailand have voluntary standards limiting lead levels to 1,000 ppm and 100 ppm respectively.

However, according to the study findings, enforcement is lacking.

The researchers urge government and government agencies in the Asian countries to implement enforcement programs and to source only unleaded paints for public buildings, playgrounds, day care centers and schools.

As for paint makers, the study’s authors urge them to use non-hazardous substitutes in paint formulation and commit to a third-party certification and labeling program to ensure that all paints sold in the market meet the proposed regulatory standard of 90 ppm.


Tagged categories: Architectural coatings; Enforcement; Formulating; Health and safety; Lead; Lead paint abatement; Raw materials; Regulations; Research

Comment from Fred Salome, (3/29/2014, 12:39 AM)

No surprise that the bright colours (mainly lead sulpha-chromates) have higher lead contents than the whites. At least this shows that the more readily bioavailable basic lead carbonate (white lead) is not being used widely. Limits on the amount of lead in paint are not much use by themselves, and need to be backed by prohibitions on the manufacture, import, sale and use of the lead pigments themselves.

Comment from James Lively, (4/1/2014, 9:09 AM)

Very eye opening article about residential exposure to lead in developing countries. I'm guessing a similar study on industrial coatings would produce similar (or higher)findings on concentrations of lead. Expectedly, even when there are regulations on the books, enforcement is lax...

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