Health & Medical Environmental

Lead-Based Paints: Where and Why Are They Still Sold?

Lead-Based Paints: Where and Why Are They Still Sold?

Shifting the Paint Industry

The Philippines' regulation, enacted in December 2013, sets a 90-ppm standard for lead in decorative paints by 2016 and in industrial paint by 2019. The paint industry, government, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are also setting up a third-party certification program to verify that paints meet the standard, according to Johnson Ongking, vice-president of one of the country's largest paint companies, Boysen Paints. Ongking, a recent president of the Philippines Association of Paint Manufacturers, says the country's 23 main paint companies will be ready to comply.

According to Ongking, Boysen eliminated lead around 2007, and its cans now carry an icon advertising their lead-free status. He says the process took two years to complete and entailed a price increase of 10–30% for affected paints (a small portion of the company's product line).

Ongking says IPEN and its Filipino partner, EcoWaste Coalition, brought the dangers of lead to the industry's attention. The two groups were helpful in educating companies about the need and means for reformulating their paints as well as in crafting regulation. "Honestly, we just weren't that aware of the hazards of lead in paint," he says. "The more we learned and understood about the health risks involved … it really was kind of a no-brainer."

Ultimately, Ongking says, eliminating lead industry-wide will be good for the paint business and will earn customers' trust. "It gives them confidence that we're responsible as an industry, that we look after what's good for our consumers," he says.

Nepal faces different challenges. The Kathmandu-based Center for Public Health and Environmental Development, an IPEN partner and GAELP member, conducted studies of lead in paints in 2010, 2011, and 2013, each time turning up plenty of high-lead paints on store shelves. The group publicized its results at every step through media campaigns that elicited a strong public reaction, says executive director Ram Charitra Sah. It raised the issue with the government, pediatricians, and the school system, and began lobbying for regulation.

"Things have changed a lot," Sah says. Now schools—where children spend their days at brightly colored desks and benches—are shifting toward safe paints, and the government is drafting regulations limiting lead in paints to 90 ppm. Sah is optimistic that lead-based paints' days are numbered in Nepal.

But Nepalese paint manufacturers still see a difficult road ahead. While acknowledging the health hazards posed by lead, Bishwa Prakash Saakha, president of the Nepal Paint Manufacturers Association, points to several obstacles that won't be overcome just by penning a regulation. A lot of paints from neighboring India enter the country unofficially, so unless India enacts and enforces a mandatory lead-paint ban of its own, any domestic regulation will do Nepal little good, he says. And enforcement of any new law will be essential but difficult, with only a handful of laboratories in the country capable of testing for lead.

Most of all, Saakha says, Nepalese paint manufacturers need help reformulating their paints, as most rely on old formulas and are unaware even of which pigments contain lead and which do not. "It's not that the paint manufacturers association doesn't want to go for the lead-free paint. We want to. But it will take time," Saakha says, adding that the company he represents, Nepal Paints, is trying to reformulate now. "We are working on this, but it is difficult for us," he says.

GAELP is developing guidance for countries interested in regulating lead-based paints. Given the varying needs around the world, the guidance will likely include a menu of regulatory approaches and options for enforcement, says Angela Bandemehr, an international environmental program coordinator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which chairs the alliance's advisory committee. Bandemehr says the goal is to enable countries to share information and learn from one other what works. "We want to empower countries to look at their own situation and do what's best for them to do," Bandemehr says. "It's not a one-size-fits-all situation."

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A Selective Timeline of Lead-Based Paints

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