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Limiting Lead: A Global Issue

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

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The vast majority of developing countries do not have regulations governing the amount of lead in paints, according to a new study.

As of 2016, only 36 percent of countries around the world have established legally binding limits on lead in paint, according to the 48-page “Global Report on the Status of Legal Limits on Lead in Paint.”

The report, produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) along with the U.S.-based World Resources Institute, highlights the difficulty of meeting a 2020 goal that all countries enact laws to control the production, import, sale and use of lead paints.

© / Bartosz Hadyniak

The report says that 19 countries are in the process of passing lead paint controls, including India.

“A significant gap still needs to be filled to achieve the target on time,” writes Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP.

Lead Exposure

According to the World Health Organization, lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems. Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer permanent adverse health affects, including brain and nervous system damage.

“There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe,” WHO notes.

In some developing countries, decorative paints for homes, schools, hospitals and other buildings have lead levels of 10,000 to 100,000 parts per million, UNEP has previously reported. By comparison, the U.S. limits lead in paint to no more than 90 parts per million.

Key Findings

Fifty three of the countries assessed in the study have established labeling requirements, while only 17 countries require that paint be tested and certified for lead content.

Most countries with binding lead limits have established enforcement provisions to ensure compliance, the report said.

However, some countries have laws that are not comprehensive and still allow for lead paint to be manufactured, exported, imported or sold.

lead hazard
© / Darren Townsend

“There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe,” according to the World Health Organization.

For example, China does not regulate exports or imports and Mexico does not regulate manufacturing or sales, the report added.

Twenty countries assessed have adopted voluntary limits on lead paint.

The report also indicates that 19 countries are in the process of passing lead paint controls, including Bangladesh, India and Antigua and Barbuda.

“Things have moved really, really fast,” said Sara Brosché, manager for IPEN’s Global Lead Paint Elimination Campaign told the Voice of America. “Once industry is aware of the situation, they wanted to move quickly on these issues, as did policymakers and civil society.”

Costs and Proposal

Moreover, a separate report indicated that worldwide, the annual cost of lead exposure is nearly $1 trillion, with developing countries bearing the great majority of the costs.

In May, the U.N. Environment Assembly proposed a resolution to “encourage” member governments to adopt anti-lead paint laws during meetings in Kenya.  

However, Voice of America reports China voted to reject the proposal, thus a U.N. resolution limiting chemicals and waste worldwide passed without mention of lead paint.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; China; Coatings Technology; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Europe; Government; Health and safety; India; Latin America; Lead; Lead rule; Middle East; North America; Paint Exposures; Regulations

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