Analysis: NDANGWA MWITTAH
ACCORDING to the World Health Organisation (WHO), lead poisoning accounts for about 143,000 deaths per year globally, and 600,000 cases of intellectual disability annually.
About 99 percent of children affected by exposure to lead live in low and middle-income countries.
Studies also show that lead paint is a major contributor to these deaths and also the disabilities – mind you, lead exposure can cause permanent brain damage in children.
High lead levels have been found in more than a third of solvent-based paints sold in Zambia.
Almost 36 percent of paints analysed in a new study on total lead in solvent-based decorative paints sold contained high lead levels, and nine out of 39 paints from 13 brands analysed contained exceedingly high lead levels.
All 39 paint can labels failed to carry any consumer information about lead content. These findings are part of a new report released by the Children’s Environmental Health Foundation (CEHF) and IPEN.
CEHF, a non-profit making organisation founded in 2011, supports sustainable environment and aims to see the standards of the environment where the Zambian child and underprivileged families live uplifted. It champions the protection of children and other vulnerable populations at risk from all forms of environmental health hazards and chemical threats that inhibit the development potential of children.
IPEN, on the other hand, is an international NGO network comprising of over 500 organisations in 116 countries that works to reduce and eliminate hazardous, toxic substances internationally and within their own countries.
“The health impacts of lead exposure on young children’s brains are lifelong, irreversible and untreatable,” said Michael Musenga of CEHF. “We are limiting our children and our nation’s future intellectual development even though safe and effective alternatives are already in use and widely available. We must reduce this critical source of lead exposure to young children.
“Continued use of lead paint is a primary source of childhood lead exposure,” said Dr Sara Brosché, IPEN’s Global Lead Paint Elimination Campaign manager.
Children, especially those under the age of six, ingest or inhale lead through exposure to dust or soil contaminated with lead-based paint and normal hand-to-mouth behaviour or when they chew on toys, household furniture or other articles painted with lead paint.
CEHF released Lead in Solvent-Based Paints for Home Use in Zambia report as part of the worldwide activities during the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action (ILPPWA), October 22-28, 2017. The Week of Action is co-led by UN Environment and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
As a part of the Week of Action, IPEN also released Lead in Solvent- Based Paint for Home Use Global Report, a comprehensive review of lead in paint sold around the world, which finds that a quarter of all paints analysed in 50 out of the 55 countries studied in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe contain lead levels dangerous to children.
In a statement prepared for this year’s ILPPWA, Dr Maria Neira, director of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health for the World Health Organisation (WHO), said: “Lead paint is a serious threat to the long-term health of our children. Yet lead paint is still on sale in many countries and is used to decorate homes and schools. WHO calls on all countries to phase out lead paint by 2020 to protect the health of this and future generations.”
From September 2016 to March 2017, CEHF purchased a total of 39 cans of solvent-based, enamel decorative paints from various stores in Lusaka, Livingstone and Choma. The paints represented 13 different brands produced by seven manufacturers. Samples from these paints were analysed by an accredited laboratory in the USA for total lead content.
Key findings from the report Lead in Solvent-Based Paints for Home Use in Zambia include:
• 14 out of 39 paints (36 percent) of the solvent-based paints analysed contained total lead concentrations above 90 parts per million (ppm); seven paints (18 percent) contained dangerously high lead concentrations above 10,000 ppm.
• Nine out of 13 paint brands produced at least one paint with a total lead concentration above 90 ppm.
• A majority of brightly coloured paints (14 out of 39 or 36 percent) contained lead concentrations greater than 90 ppm. Yellow paints were the most hazardous with four out of 10 yellow paints (40 percent) containing total lead concentrations greater than 10,000 ppm.
• The highest lead concentration detected was 120,000 ppm in an orange paint sold in Zambia.
• None of the paints provided information about lead on their labels and most paints carried little information about ingredients.
Zambia has no legally binding regulations to control lead in paint.
Most highly industrial countries adopted laws to control the lead content of decorative paints beginning in the 1970s and 1980s. The strictest standard, 90 ppm total lead content in decorative paint, is common in many countries, including the Philippines, Nepal, India, Cameroon, and the United States of America. Several other countries, including Singapore and Sri Lanka, have a 600 ppm total lead standard.
Lead levels in this study are consistent with the results of a similar paint study conducted by CEHF and the University of Zambia (UNZA) in October 2015. In that study, 41 solvent-based paints from different manufacturers were found to contain lead levels above 90 ppm. Similarly, a very high percentage of the paints in the former study (37 percent) contained more than 10,000 ppm lead compared to18 percent in the current study.
This indicates that in Zambia, levels of lead in solvent-based paints among some local manufacturers are still above 90ppm.
Key recommendations made in the report include:
Government: The Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) should consider coming up with a legislation that will ban the manufacture, import, export, distribution, sale and use of paints that contain total lead concentrations exceeding 90 ppm, the most restrictive standard in the world. They should also require paint companies to display sufficient information indicating harmful contents on paint can labels such as solvents and provide warning on possible lead dust hazards when disturbing paint surfaces.
Paint industry: Paint companies that still produce lead paints should expeditiously stop the use of lead paint ingredients in paint formulations. Paint companies that have shifted to non-lead paint production should get their products certified through independent, third-party verification procedures to increase the customer’s ability to choose paints with no added lead.
Consumers: Paint consumers should demand paints with no added lead from paint manufacturers and retailers, as well as full disclosure of a paint product’s content. Household and institutional consumers should ask for, consciously buy, and apply only paints with no added lead in places frequently used by children such as homes, schools, day care centres, parks and playgrounds.
The paint study was undertaken as part of IPEN’s Global Lead Paint Elimination Project.
Governments should set mandatory limits on lead paint, but paint companies should not wait for regulation; they can and should act now.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail correspondent.