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Environmental Experts Urge Global Lead Paint Ban

Published by MAC on 2006-08-24

Environmental Experts Urge Global Lead Paint Ban


24th August 2006

Environmental and occupational health experts at the University of Cincinnati, UC, have found that India, China and Malaysia still produce and sell consumer paints with dangerously high lead levels, even on products intended for use by children such as painted playground equipment.

Researchers from four countries say that this lead-based paint production poses a global health threat, and a worldwide ban is urgently needed to avoid future public health problems.

The first study to show that new paint in many unregulated Asian countries greatly exceeds U.S. safety levels, the report appears in the early online edition of the journal "Environmental Research," September 2006.

Linked to impaired intellectual and physical growth in children, lead is a metal used to improve the durability and color luster of paint used in homes and other buildings and on steel structures, such as bridges.

Lead is also found in some commonly imported consumer products, including candy, folk and traditional medications, ceramic dinnerware, and metallic toys and trinkets. In 1978, the United States restricted lead content in paint after determining that people, especially young children, were being poisoned by environmental exposures to the metal. Many Third World countries, says Scott Clark, PhD, did not follow suit, and continue to manufacture and sell lead-based paints that would be prohibited in the United States and in some other countries.

Clark headed a two year study involving researchers from four countries. The scientists found that more than 75 percent of the consumer paint tested from countries without controls on lead paint - representing more than 2.5 billion people - had levels exceeding U.S. regulations.

By contrast, in Singapore, which enforces the same lead restriction on new paint as the United States, lead levels were significantly lower.

"Paint manufacturers are aggressively marketing lead-based paints in countries without lead content restrictions," says Clark, professor of environmental health at UC. "In some cases, companies are offering the same or similar products, minus the lead, in a regulated country."

"There is a clear discrepancy in product safety outside the United States," he adds, "and in today's global economy, it would be irresponsible for us to ignore the public health threat for the citizens in the offending countries, as well as the countries they do business with."

The scientific team analyzed 80 consumer paint samples of various colors and brands from India, Malaysia, China and Singapore to determine the amounts of lead in the samples and compare them with U.S. standards.

About 50 percent of the paint sold in China, India and Malaysia had lead levels 30 times higher than U.S. regulations. In contrast in Singapore, which has well-enforced regulations, only 10 percent of paint samples were above U.S. regulations, the highest being six times the U.S. limit.

"Lead-based paints have already poisoned millions of children in the United States and will likely cause similar damage in the future as paint use increases in Asian countries and elsewhere," he says. "Our findings provide stark evidence of the urgent need for an effective worldwide ban on the use of lead-based paint."

"We've known for years that there are good substitutes for lead in paint," he said, "so it's absolutely incomprehensible that paint manufacturers - particularly large companies with plentiful resources - would knowingly distribute a product that can be dangerous to people."

Clark says some lead-contaminated items intended for use by children, such as painted playground equipment, are manufactured in countries with limited to zero government regulation on lead in consumer products.

Although American brand paints were not available for purchase in this study, several U.S. multinational paint companies are among the top-selling paints in Asia and some Asian paint companies have arrangements with U.S. companies.

Collaborators in this study include Rebecca Clark and Sandy Roda of UC, Krishna Rampal, MD, of the University Kebangsaan Malaysia, Venkatesh Thuppil, PhD, of the National Referral Center for Lead Poisoning Prevention in India, and Chin Chen of the Occupational Safety and Health Center at Singapore Polytechnic.

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