Even as a leading Indian paint producer continues to fight findings about lead content in its paint, the nation’s paint manufacturers say they are ready for a phase-out of lead.
“The Indian Paint [and Coating] Association is in touch with the government to implement a law on the removal of lead from paints. The industry wants to switch over to non-lead on a phase-wise manner. Already the major players, including us, are following the international standard on this. I expect the law to be in place maybe within two years,” said Subir Bose, Managing Director, Berger Paints India.
IPCA, formed in 2004, represents more than 500 paint and coatings manufacturers, raw materials suppliers and traders.
Bose said IPCA had approached the government to phase out lead entirely. He gave no time frame and said that any action would have to be gradual, “because about 30 to 35 percent of the industrial players are from the unorganized sector and they will need some time frame to do this.”
Berger Paints produces a wide range of protective, marine and architectural coatings. Founded in 1923, the company was originally known as Hadfield’s (India) Ltd., then later as British Paints (India) Ltd. In the 1980s, the company ended a succession of foreign ownership and became known as Berger Paints India Limited.
Recently, the Quality Council of India found an “unacceptable” amount of lead in Berger’s paints. It did not release numbers but said the levels were up to twice the acceptable amount. QCI is an independent, but government sanctioned, accreditation authority that oversees India’s National Quality Campaign.
QCI conducted the analysis of popular branded paints in conjunction with the Consumer Association of India. QCI funded the study with technical support from National Referral Centre on Lead Poisoning in India (NRCLPI). The paints were tested at Bangalore Analytical Research Centre (P) Ltd, which is accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Laboratories (NABL).
Berger says it stopped using lead-based pigments in December 2009. “We are only using it in [the] industrial sector to resist corrosion,” Bose recently told India’s Evening Standard.
Berger said in published reports that it had not been contacted by QCI or the lead poisoning center. QCI disputed that contention.
“We sent Berger Paints a letter in July 2010, raising concerns about the amount of lead present in their paint samples, but it never responded. It did not even reply to the fax sent to them several times,” Thuppil Venkatesh, principal advisor, QCI and NRCLPI, told the Evening Standard.
QCI said it had tried to contact all paint companies, including Berger, to take initiatives to reduce lead in their paints after the survey. QCI said it had been trying to work with all major paint companies, including Berger, on the issue for two years, but the company never replied or attended any of the initiatives, the newspaper reported.
In published reports, Berger Paints Senior Vice-President (Sales & Marketing) Abhijit Roy contended that the company’s products have a lead content of “about 25-30 parts per million (ppm), which is much lower than the global standards, that is 60 ppm.”
Responded QCI Secretary-General Girdhar J Gyani: “This is really strange, that instead of realizing the kind of harm it is causing to the health of innumerable people, the company is making tall claims and challenging our survey.”
“Berger should have taken off all its old batch paints from the market to ensure health safety of people buying it ignorantly. It could have advertised it loud enough that the company was going lead-free from December 2009 and, hence, people should abandon using paints of old batch that had heavy lead content.”
Gyani said Berger’s lead content was up to 200% higher than acceptable in some samples and challenged the company to provide evidence to support its lead claims.
Berger’s website says its products “are manufactured keeping in mind stringent VOC limits along with other environmental guidelines as per the industry. Our products are compliant to all global and industrial green certifications.”
Berger Paints has far-reaching ties with other coatings companies around the world. In 2005, Berger purchased the Motors & Industrial paints business of ICI India. That business became a wholly owned subsidiary called Berger Auto & Industrial Coatings Limited.
In addition, the company currently has Technical License Agreements with:
• DuPont Performance Coatings in the area of automotive coatings;
• Nippon Paint Co Ltd., for new-generation automotive coatings;
• Orica Australia Pty. Ltd. in the area of protective coatings;
• TIGERWERK Lack-u.Farbenfabrik GmbH & Co. KG, Austria, for specialized powder coatings; and
• Nippon Bee Chemical Co. Ltd for coating on plastic auto parts and mobile phones.