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Study Reveals High Lead Levels in Paint

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

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Decorative household paints being sold in some developing countries have more than 10 times the lead concentrations allowed in North American paints and pose a serious risk to young children, a new global study has found.

Lead in Decorative Enamel Paints” found lead concentrations of 99,000 parts per million (ppm) or greater in some paints, prompting calls for regulatory frameworks, public information campaigns, and voluntary labeling, as such levels would not meet regulatory standards in most industrialized countries.

The regulatory limit in the U.S. and Canada is 90 ppm.

The study analyzed 234 cans of enamel decorative paints—or oil-based architectural paints marketed for household use—purchased in retail locations throughout nine countries: Argentina, Azerbaijan, Chile, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Ethiopia, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Tunisia and Uruguay.

In Cote d’Ivoire, 10 anti-corrosive paints marketed for use on metal household surfaces were also tested.

Cover of report
All images UNEP / IPEN

The lead content levels found in paints for sale in developing countries wo:uld not meet regulatory standards in most industrialized countries.

The 43-page report was published in late October by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), a global network of health and environmental non-governmental organizations.

The countries were selected for the study because they did not appear to have publicly available data on lead content of decorative paints for sale in their markets, had an IPEN partner organization with the interest and ability to help carry out the project, and were considered regionally and linguistically diverse.

Nearly 100 brands were tested throughout the project.

By the Numbers

In Argentina, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan and Tunisia, one or more of the paints tested had levels of 99,000 ppm lead or greater, or 10 percent or more lead by weight.

In seven of the nine countries, some paint samples tested had lead concentrations greater than 10,000 ppm. Five of the samples were from Argentina; 10 from Ethiopia; six from Cote d’Ivoire; two from Azerbaijan; three from Ghana; three from Kyrgyzstan; and eight from Tunisia.

In most of the countries, equivalent paints with very low lead contents were also available in the marketplace, according to UNEP and IPEN.

Table of Lead Concentrations

In Azerbaijan, Cote d’lvoire, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan and Tunisia, 67 percent or more of the paint samples tested had lead content greater than the 90 ppm allowed in the U.S. and Canada.

In the same five countries, 57 percent or more of the paint samples tested had lead content greater than 600 ppm—the regulatory standard in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

Chile and Uruguay

In Chile and Uruguay, all but one sample tested had low lead concentrations. The samples collected from Uruguay did not exceed 63 ppm, and only one sample in Chile had a level of 1,100 ppm.

Both countries have recently enacted national executive decrees that prohibit the production, import, distribution, sale and use of decorative paints with lead concentrations above 600 ppm.

Argentina has also enacted a similar law; however, seven of the 30 paints tested from there exceeded that level.

Consumer Information

Only 20 of the 244 paint cans sampled included information about lead content, the report added. Seventeen of the 20 were sold in Uruguay.

Other consumer information was also limited, including the manufacturer's website, the date of manufacture, and batch numbers, the study found. Only half of the cans sampled were labeled with manufacture dates or batch numbers.

Colors Analyzed

Also, different colors were analyzed as part of the study.

In general, the study concluded that white paints had the lowest levels of lead content in the countries studied. Yellow, red, green and other brightly colored paints generally had the highest lead contents.

Lead paint study

The study found that white paints contained the lowest levels of lead content.

Lead is often added to the colored paints as a pigment and drier, the report said.

Efforts to Eliminate

According to the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, a joint initiative by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UNEP, 143,000 deaths a year are tied to lead poisoning and lead paint.

Globally, 30 countries have phased out lead-based paints; 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, World Health Organization says.

The Global Alliance aims to eliminate lead paint in 70 countries by 2015 and in all countries by 2020.

Health and environmental government agencies in the United States—where lead-based paint has been banned in architectural coatings since 1978—say that children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead, including brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and anemia.

In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and death, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.


Tagged categories: Coatings manufacturers; Coatings Technology; Coatings technology; Fatalities; Health and safety; Lead; Lead paint abatement; Regulations

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