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WHO Pushes Global Ban on Lead Paint

Monday, October 21, 2013

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The World Health Organization is calling on countries to step up national efforts to eliminate lead paint as part of the first International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action, which opened Sunday (Oct. 20).

Calling lead paint a "major flashpoint" in lead poisoning of children, WHO is urging the adoption of regulations and procedures that eliminate the use of lead in decorative paints and inform the public about the hazards of renovations that disturb lead paint.

The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint ties 143,000 deaths a year to lead poisoning and lead paint.

"The good news is that exposure to lead paint can be entirely stopped through a range of measures to restrict the production and use of lead paint," said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health and Environment.

'Lead-Free Kids'

The Lead Poisoning Prevention Week theme is "Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future"; the campaign sends a strong message about avoiding lead paint.

International Lead Poisoning Awareness Week
Photos: UNEP

Lead paint has been eliminated in 30 countries, but paints with high levels of lead are still available in developing countries.

Globally, 30 countries have phased out lead paint; however, it continues to be a source of exposure until it is finally stripped and replaced. The cost of replacing lead paint means that people living in older, poorly maintained housing are at a higher risk, and economically deprived communities are disproportionately affected, WHO says.

The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, co-led by WHO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), aims to eliminate lead paint in 70 countries by 2015 and in all countries by 2020.

Lead Paint Exposure

Lead exposure is estimated to contribute to 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year, WHO says. Lead poisoning, with lead paint as a major contributor, causes an estimated 143,000 deaths per year.

Overall, 99 percent of children affected by high exposure live in low- and middle-income countries, says WHO.

"Lead poisoning remains one of the most important environmental health concerns for children globally, and lead paint is a major flashpoint for children's potential lead poisoning," said Neira.

High levels of lead exposure can damage the brain and central nervous system, causing comas, convulsions and even death. Lower levels, which were once considered safe, have no obvious symptoms but are now known to cause numerous negative health effects.

'Extremely High Levels of Lead'

"Paints with extremely high levels of lead are still available in most of the developing countries where paint testing has been conducted as part of the efforts of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint," said David Piper, Deputy Director of UNEP 's Division of Technology, Industry and Economics'  Chemicals Branch.

lead paint

Lead paint is a major contributor to lead poisoning, which leads to 143,000 deaths annually, WHO says.

"In most countries with lead paint, equivalent paint with no added lead is also available, suggesting that alternatives to lead are readily available to manufacturers," said Piper.

Campaign Week Initiatives

During the campaign week, the global alliance aims to raise awareness about lead poisoning, highlight countries and partners' efforts to prevent childhood lead poisoning, and urge further action to eliminate lead paint.

Events are being held worldwide throughout the week.

In the United States, National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is also being held this week. The theme is the same as WHO's campaign, underscoring ways parents can reduce a child's exposure to lead, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Contractors, building owners, landlords and others are also getting the lead-paint message this week. Federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Housing and Urban Development also have a line-up of awareness events.


Tagged categories: Architectural coatings; Centers for Disease Control; EPA; Government; Health and safety; HUD; Laws and litigation; Lead; Regulations

Comment from Fred Salome, (10/21/2013, 6:08 PM)

We should all get behind this initiative. Lead poisoning, whether in children or in workers in the coatings industry, is not a third world problem. Lead paint sold and applied in countries that have no regulations banning its use finds its way into wetsern countries as pre-painted articles, steel-work or even toys. Until we can be sure that all countries have similar regulations preventing use of lead in paint, we will not be able to put this important issue behind us. We are all aware of the very real health risks and reduced life expectancy associated with working in the Protective Coatings industry, and any steps we can take to eliminate known hazards such as lead will be well worth it in terms of reduced impacts on society, our kids and ourselves.

Comment from Simon Hope, (10/22/2013, 3:38 AM)

Getting behind this legislation on a global scale is a fantastic legacy for the future if everyone gets behind it, it then just leaves the unbelievable mess behind from previous generations to clear up. The total removal of lead based hazards for our children and grand children will be a major step forward but is only one of a multitude of processes and materials that need to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

Comment from peter gibson, (10/22/2013, 2:35 PM)

The problem is totally over stated. There is very little lead paint use around the world today. Don't buy the problem. Same racket like asbestos.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/23/2013, 10:09 AM)

Peter - if that were true, it would be very easy to simply get rid of lead paint. Unfortunately, that has not proved to be the case.

Comment from Car F., (10/24/2013, 11:40 AM)

Mr.Gibson, there is an undisputable amount of data proven the ill effects of lead, asbestos and silica, any effort to eliminate, subsitute or control these products should be viewed as a welcoming development, true, lots of people and businesses make fortunes out addressing these concerns, but it is not different that addressing cancer research, space or military research: someone will profit from it.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (10/25/2013, 11:01 AM)

Mr. Gibson, just because the product isn't currently in favor (i.e. not a lot of it being used around the world today), doesn't mean that the stuff that was previously produced has been dealt with. Both asbestos and lead are pretty rare ingredients these days, but the problems associated with them are very real... Unfortunately, things like lead, silica and asbestos don't usually lead to acute toxic effects (i.e. you get knocked down like with H2S or overcome like some solvents)...but it can be as little as one exposure that can result in asbestiosis, silicosis or mesothelioma in the future. When it comes to coatings, some of the lead numbers I've had in paint samples from bridges have, quite frankly, been astounding. Considering the potential health risks involved (as backed up by scientific research), I'd rather be prudent and protect myself and others versus dismissing it as a "racket."

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