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UN Spotlights Lead Paint in Kenya

Monday, November 7, 2016

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Public health officials are out to educate those in developing countries about the effects of lead exposure and poisoning.

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 took place the week of Oct. 23. The campaign aimed to raise awareness of the health and other risks posed by lead and what protections can be put in place; this year’s theme focused 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 provides an opportunity to rally political and social commitment to achieve further progress, organizers say.

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: Coatings Technology; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Government; Health and safety; Lead; Lead rule; Paint; Regulations; Spray systems

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