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UN Agency Targets Lead Paint in Kenya

Friday, October 28, 2016

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While many countries have programs and regulations in place to protect their citizens from the effects of lead poisoning, public health officials are now striving to educate those in developing regions about lead exposure as well.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), an agency that coordinates the UN’s environmental activities, and helps developing countries implement environmentally sound policies and practices, recently called attention to the prevalence of lead in Kenya’s paint industry.

The story of paint workers in Kenya was shared as part of the 2016 International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action, which ends tomorrow (Oct. 29). The campaign strives to raise awareness of the health and other risks posed by lead and what protections can be put in place; this year’s theme focuses on lead in paint.

Awareness, Folk Remedies

Dr. Faridah Were, a toxicology expert at the University of Nairobi, is working with health and medical experts in an effort to try to clean up the country’s paints and protect its workers.

On a recent visit to the country, Were spotted a man mixing paint in a deep bucket using only his bare arms. In talking with him, she said she learned he had no knowledge of the dangers he exposed himself to by literally hand-mixing the paints at his paint shop.

Moreover, Were pointed out, the paint can labels gave no indication that the paints contained lead.

Not far from his kiosk, Were said she found a worker spray coating a car, without protective gear, just feet away from women preparing raw meats. The visitors could reportedly smell the fumes from some distance away.

Another worker at the car yard indicated he knew lead paint could make you sick and that he occasionally wears a protective mask, she reported. However, she said he had his own method for dealing with negative health effects from using lead-based paints.

“After you spray you should drink milk,” he reportedly told Were, “because milk helps you to remove the paint dirt from the chest.”

These home remedies pose a problem when it comes to educating workers, according to Dr. Tom Menge, chief pharmacist at Nairobi’s Kenyatta Hospital.

“One of challenges we have is [some people] are aware of the toxic effects and have their own ideas on how they can prevent poisoning,” Dr. Menge said.

“We have a lot people who believe that if they expose themselves to lead in paint and if they drink milk, they will be ok," Dr. Menge says. But, "there is no scientific evidence that milk has got the ability to prevent you from absorbing lead.”

Lead Paint Ban

For decades, many countries have been using paints without lead additives have found them to be practical, cost-effective alternatives; however, only 36 percent (62 of 196 countries) have legal limits on lead paint, UNEP said.

The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, led by UNEP and the World Health Organization, has set the target for all governments to ban lead in paint by 2020.

Lead paint infographic crop

According to UNEP, only 36 percent (62 of 196 countries) have legal limits on lead paint; the full infographic from the agency is available for download here.

Were shares that goal for Kenya.

“All lead in paint must be phased out here in Kenya,” said Dr. Were. “We have been working closely with the relevant government agencies to develop national lead standards and we are hopefully on track to meet the 2020 target to ban lead in paint altogether.”

Some Kenyan paint companies—Basco, Sadolin and Crown Paints—are said to be transitioning to manufacturing lead-free paint. However, Menge suggested the government should provide greater support and enforcement in cleaning up what is considered an “informal” industry. Because the majority of the Kenyan workforce reportedly works in unregulated environments lacking standard health and safety protections, lead exposure can be very high through the use of lead-based paints, solder and batteries.

“It’s a silent killer … it’s not obvious from the symptoms because most of the time it is through chronic lead exposure over a long period of time,” he said.

“It’s high time we started addressing the issue of lead in the informal sector. The cost of treatment is so expensive ... the only solution is prevention,” he added.

About the Week of Action

The International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action was slated for Oct. 23-29. It provides is an opportunity to rally political and social commitment to achieve further progress.

Although lead poisoning is completely preventable, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported that lead exposure contributed for 853,000 deaths and 16.8 million disability adjusted life years (DALYs) in 2013 as a result of long-term effects, particularly in developing regions.

Key messages for the 2016 campaign included:

  • Lead exposure affects human health, especially for children;
  • Lead paint is an important source of lead exposure; and
  • We can work together to reduce impacts of exposure to lead in paint.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Coating Materials; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Government; Health and safety; Latin America; Lead; Lead rule; North America; Paint; Regulations; Spray systems

Comment from Oscar Cueva, (10/28/2016, 1:03 PM)

En Centro America, Honduras, hay empresas que importan pintura de EUA y Canada que ha sido desacheda por caducidad y sin mayor control reprocesas con simple agitacion y sin mayor control y regulacion la pintura gelificada o muy sedimentada ya sea base agua o solvente es botada en los basureros municipales. Esto esta generando una fuerte contaminacion del suelo y aguas, nadie comenta o critica esta practica

Comment from Fred Salome, (10/28/2016, 10:07 PM)

The paint industry in any country is extremely diverse and difficult to control. Many paint suppliers cater to a small regional or local market, outside of effective industry controls and without adequate knowledge of the potential hazards from, amongst other thing, lead compounds. Obviously the problem is worse in developing countries with less-regulated communities. The most effective means of eliminating lead from paint is to ban the manufacture, import and sale of the lead pigments and related compounds, which are traditionally manufactured by larger often global chemical companies.

Comment from VCBud Jenkins, (10/29/2016, 1:54 AM)

A good first step would to say that there is no Lead Carbonate in this paint can. White Lead is the real problem in lead poisoning. Medium Chrome Yellow is the Lead Pigment color that was used on school buses for many years and there was no epidemic of lead poisoning. The fumes the people were smelling were not due to lead pigments, it was solvents. I recommend that the lead pigments be tested to show exactly what the risk is of using them versus the utility of using them. Lead chromate, and lead molybdyate, and maybe basic lead silicochromate might be getting a bad rap. The test would be to state how many paint chips would a child have to eat to get lead poisoning. With white lead pigments which are soluble in stomach acid, it didn't take too much but maybe with the insoluble light chrome yellow and medium chrome yellow and moly orange it might be different. Lets test it and see.

Comment from peter gibson, (10/31/2016, 4:40 PM)

Africa...the backward continent.Still has lead in paint. No surprise here. There are no regulations in Africa.It is a free-for-all.

Comment from mag gholamian, (11/14/2016, 5:48 AM)

That is not quite true Peter. vessels built in European yards also were found to have lead paints coating for some internal lube oil tanks.

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