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Study Hits PPG on Lead Paint in Africa

Friday, March 22, 2013

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PPG Industries is selling house paint with “significant lead concentrations” in the African nation of Cameroon without labeling that warns users of the lead content, a new study by environmental health researchers contends.

Lead concentrations are as high as 50 percent by weight in household paint being sold by Cameroon's largest paint company, Seigneurie, a PPG subsidiary, according to “Lead Concentrations and Labeling of New Paint in Cameroon,” an article newly published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

The lead concentration in those household paints is more than 5,000 times the allowable limit in the U.S., the study says.

OK International

The study's co-author accuses PPG Industries of a "double standard" in selling house paint with "significant" lead content in the African nation of Cameroon.

In a detailed statement to PaintSquare News, PPG spokesman Jeremy Neuhart said the Pittsburgh-based company “meets or exceeds all applicable legal requirements with respect to lead content wherever PPG coatings are marketed.”

'Extraordinarily High'

"There is an immediate need for regulations to restrict the lead content of paint in Cameroon to protect public health," said Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of Occupational Knowledge International (OK International) and co-author of the new study.

"The levels of lead are extraordinarily high, and these products have been banned in the U.S. for more than 30 years," Gottesfeld said.

San Francisco-based OK International bills itself as a “nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health through innovative strategies to reduce exposures to industrial pollutants."

A longtime critic of lead paint use in developing countries, the group says it focuses on “inequities in environmental standards between developed and developing countries by working in partnership with industry, government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).”

Lead Study

In the current study, researchers visited 76 retail and wholesale paint suppliers in Cameroon to collect information from paint product labels and samples of paints to analyze for lead content. The paint is made by Seigneurie, which PPG’s Architectural Coatings EMEA division acquired in 2007.

A once-family-owned company that dates to 1880, Seigneurie manufactures interior and decorative paints, lacquers, wood care products, protective floor coatings, and external thermal insulation for distribution throughout France, Africa, Spain Portgual and China, according to its website.

In Cameroon, the researchers found, “only 8.5% of paints had labels identifying any of the ingredients, and none of the lead paints included any warning language.”


Seigneurie manufactures a variety of architectural paints and products for sale in France, Africa, Spain Portgual and China. PPG bought the company in 2007.

The authors also purchased 61 paints (mostly enamels) from retail outlets and analyzed them for lead content. The median level was 2,150 parts per million (ppm), and the samples ranged from less than 21 ppm to 500,000 ppm, the researchers said.

Two-thirds (66 percent) of the paint samples “had concentrations exceeding the U.S. standard of 90 ppm total lead,” the team reported. Moreover, it said, “All but one of the samples with lead concentrations greater than 90 ppm were also greater than 600 ppm."

Paints made by Seigneurie, the country’s biggest paint maker, “had significant lead concentrations in 9 out of 22 (41 percent) paints tested,” the group found.

PPG: In Compliance

PPG’s statement said it was in compliance with all applicable laws.

“In 2008, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission ('CPSC') established the lowest regulatory standard in the world for lead in consumer products: no more than 90 parts per million (ppm),” the statement said.

“Shortly thereafter, PPG globally adopted a position that limits the lead content for all architectural and decorative coatings marketed to consumers to the U.S. CPSC standard.”

OK International and other critics have raised questions about PPG’s paint in Cameroon before, and the company has declined to recall the paint.

Internal Review

In 2011, Neuhart said, PPG “undertook an internal review regarding lead in consumer paint that is sold in Cameroon, which does not have a legal limit for lead in paints and coatings.”

He added: “PPG has indicated its support of a Cameroon governmental standard for lead in consumer paints and will comply with such a regulation if enacted.

“PPG’s acquired subsidiary in Cameroon met with government officials there in 2011 to discuss reformulation of consumer coatings to meet the U.S. CPSC standard," Neuhart said. "These changes were completed in late 2011. Consumer coatings produced by PPG’s African manufacturing facilities now comply with the U.S. CPSC lead-content standard.”

Exchanges Offered

In 2012, PPG said, it “contacted Seigneurie-brand customers offering to exchange previously sold paint that contains lead with new lead-free product options.”

PPG Architectural Coatings EMEA

With 550 service centers and more than 3.500 independent wholesalers, PPG Architectural Coatings EMEA is Europe's second-largest supplier of architectural coatings and sundry products.

Taylor & Francis, the publisher of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, said in a release that “PPG sent a letter to some of the distributors offering to exchange some products, but few responded.”

Neuhart said PPG “has been in the process of collecting and properly disposing any lead-containing consumer paint as it is returned from customers, as well as all lead-containing paint in PPG’s inventory. Regarding product labeling, PPG now labels consumer coatings in Cameroon as meeting the U.S. CPSC standard.” 

Call for Global Standards

The researchers say the case points to a need for global restrictions on lead paint used in homes. They propose the development of a third-party certification program for paints without added lead.

“These recommendations are consistent with the objectives of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint established under the auspices of the United Nations to address this problem on a global scale,” said Gottesfeld.

An organization called the Research and Education Centre for Development (CREPD),  which co-authored the study, said it was now warning consumers in Cameroon to avoid buying paints unless the cans are labeled as having no added lead.

"The problem we are seeing is that the older paint is still in stores, because none of the companies have recalled products with hazardous levels of lead," said Gilbert Kuepouo, of the Center.

"As a result, we are asking consumers to look for labels that indicate that lead levels are less than 90 parts per million (PPM) as required in the U.S., China, and other countries.”

Gottesfeld called his study's findings "the ultimate case of a company operating with double standards as they sell hazardous products in developing countries that have been banned in the U.S. since the 1970s.”

The World Health Organization recommends the use of lead-free paint in homes as one step toward reducing lead exposure.


Tagged categories: Coatings Technology; Compliance; Container labels; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Lead; Paint and Coating Sales; PPG; Raw materials

Comment from VCBud Jenkins, (3/22/2013, 3:42 AM)

I would like to see a study done on the bioavailability of lead in the more insoluble pigments such as lead chromate (yellow) and lead molybdate (orange). Much of the public's fear of lead paint poisoning comes from lead carbonate (white) which is not used anymore. It might turn out that the risk to children eating insoluble lead paint is very minimal. For example crystal drinking glass is mostly lead but is insoluble and therefore safe. Maybe there is no need to panic.

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