, August 4, 2009 (ENS) - Companies on three continents continue to make and sell consumer paints that contain dangerous levels of lead despite the availability of technology to produce high-quality, low lead paint. A tougher lead paint standard takes effect in the United States later this month, but imported consumer goods may still contain hazardous amounts of lead paint. Health experts say there is no safe level of lead exposure.
In a new study, Scott Clark, PhD, and his University of Cincinnati team of environmental health researchers worked with scientists and physicians from India, Malaysia, and Singapore testing paints to determine their levels of lead, which can act as a neurotoxin in the bodies of children.
They found that 73 percent of consumer paint brands tested from 12 countries representing nearly half the world’s population exceeded the current U.S. standard of 600 parts per million for lead in paint.
They determined that 69 percent of the brands had at least one sample exceeding 10,000 parts per million.
Although lead content in paint has been restricted in the United States since 1978, because the majority of American consumer goods are produced overseas, Clark says lead paint exposure remains a threat to Americans.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Health Canada issued a July 2009 recall for these balls made in China due to excessive levels of lead on the surface coating of the basketball. (Photo courtesy CPSC)
"A global ban on lead-based paint is drastically needed to protect the more than three billion people who may be exposed in the countries allowing distribution of lead-containing paints as well as Americans unintentionally exposed through consumer products exported to the United States," says Clark, a professor of environmental health at UC and principal investigator of the study.
The report, published today in the journal "Environmental Research," comes as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is poised to enforce heightened restrictions on lead in American consumer paints that takes effect later this month.
On August 14, the lead paint on toys limit drops to 90 parts per million from 600 ppm. And the total lead limit in substrates drops to 300 parts per million.
"These will be some of the most stringent limits in the world," the new Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission Inez Tenenbaum told Asia-Pacific officials in Singapore on Saturday.
"This revised standard for lead in consumer paint is grossly overdue," adds Clark. "The previous limit of 600 ppm for lead in new paint was established more than 30 years ago when the blood-lead level of concern was much higher than at present. Modern research has shown that children are affected at very low exposure levels and that there is no safe level of exposure."
Lead is used in paint because it makes colors more vibrant and makes the paint dry faster. It makes paint more resistant to weather, mold and mildew, and helps prevent corrosion of metal surfaces.
But exposure to lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body, both in adults and children. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances says children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults. "A child who swallows large amounts of lead may develop blood anemia, severe stomachache, muscle weakness, and brain damage."
If a child swallows smaller amounts of lead, much less severe effects on blood and brain function may occur. Even at much lower levels of exposure, lead can affect a child’s mental and physical growth," the agency states on its website.
Exposure to lead is even more dangerous for young children and unborn children exposed to lead through their mothers. Harmful effects include premature births, smaller babies, decreased mental ability in the infant, learning difficulties, and reduced growth in young children. These effects are more common if the mother or baby is exposed to high levels of lead. Some of these effects may persist beyond childhood.
Lead-based paint is peeling off climbing bars on a playground in India. (Photo courtesy UC)
Exposure to high lead levels can severely damage the brain and kidneys in adults or children and ultimately cause death, warns the federal agency, which adds that high level exposure in men can damage the organs responsible for sperm production. The U.S. EPA has determined that lead is a probable human carcinogen.
For the current study, Clark analyzed a total of 373 new household enamel paint samples of various colors and brands from 12 countries in Africa, Asia and South America—with a minimum of 10 samples from most countries included in analysis. His goal was to determine the amount of lead and how it compares to U.S. standards. His team also analyzed the consumer cost of leaded and unleaded paint.
Each paint sample was applied in a single layer to a wood block, left to dry and then removed and analyzed in UC laboratories for lead content. Researchers determined that 73 percent of the paint companies’ products tested had lead concentrations exceeding current U.S. standards.
In September 2006, Clark’s team published what is believed to be the first scientific report to show that unregulated Asian countries produced and sold new consumer paints that greatly exceeded U.S. lead safety levels. In that study, 75 percent of the consumer paint samples tested from countries without controls — including India, Malaysia and China — had levels exceeding U.S. regulations.
"Although lead poisoning of children is widely recognized as a major public health problem, too little attention is being given to correcting the problem in many parts of the world," says Clark. "Meanwhile, thousands of children continue to be poisoned by the metal, setting them up for life-threatening problems later in life.
"Our studies have shown that when comparing the prices of the same size can of paint produced by several companies within India with a wide range of lead concentrations, there is no significant consumer price difference between leaded and unleaded consumer paint," says Clark.
Their research showed that one large multi-national company produced low lead paint in each of the countries where it was sampled and another company was found to have stopped using lead in paints in one country during the course of our study.
"These two observations document the fact that the technology is available so that manufacturers do not need to use lead to produce high-quality paint," says Clark.
"There is no legitimate reason paint manufacturers, particularly the large, multinational companies we analyzed with more depth in the current study, should knowingly distribute a product that has long been known to be dangerous to people," he said.
Clark says calls for a global ban on the use of lead in paints, such as the one in made in his 2006 paper, appear to be having some impact.
In May 2009, a United Nations-sponsored international forum passed a resolution establishing a global partnership to ban lead in paints.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.
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