Dangerous levels of lead has been found in samples of household decorative paints from markets in Delhi and Mumbai in a recent study done by Toxics Link, hinting at the presence of a hazardous pathway that may be exposing young and vulnerable population to heavy metal toxicity.
The findings from the study made a shocking revelation. As India does not have enforceable limits for lead in paints the manufactures are flouting them with impunity.
Though the media and civil society reacted with concern to a recent study revealing dangerous levels of lead in household paints, the paint industry showed little inclination to even notice this issue. Thus making it clear that lead-free paints would be made available to Indian consumers only when an enforceable legislation is put in place.
The study titled: 'A Brush with Toxics: An Investigation on Lead in Household Paints in India', is the most comprehensive research on the issue both in terms of the sample size and the range of paint types. The samples were tested at Galson Laboratories, New York.
"The idea behind this research was to determine the total concentration of lead in decorative paints of all type viz., plastic, enamel and exterior intended for residential use. Although lead as a source of health hazard has been studied in soil, atmosphere and toys, very few studies have been done on paints in India," said Ravi Agarwal, Director of Toxics Link, while releasing the study at a press meet.
The tests on the samples show alarming levels of lead in enamel paints and this holds true for most of the paints available in the market. "Of 31 enamel paint sample analysed for lead concentration, 83.87 percent had more than 600 ppm of lead, 19.1 percent had less than 600 ppm," said Dr. Abhay Kumar, author of the study stated.
"High concentration of lead in enamel paints is the most worrying part of the whole issue of lead in paints. Except for one brand, all others had multiple samples that contained high concentration of lead, exceeding the voluntary Indian standard of 1000 ppm (0.1 percent) and the US standard of 600 ppm. The results also indicated that most enamel paint samples had lead concentration ranging from 2 percent to 14 percent," he added.
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has slated 1000 ppm as the benchmark for acceptable levels for lead in paints, which is not only voluntary but also optional as a part of Ecomark labelling. Therefore, a manufacture is not bound by law to provide safe household paints, even if they pose serious health risks.
A common pathway of childhood lead exposure is through ingestion of lead dust through normal hand-to-mouth contact during which children swallow lead dust dislodged from deteriorated paint or leaded dust generated during remodeling or painting. Lead dust from remodeling or deteriorated paint lands on the floor near where children play and can ingest it.
Whether it enters the body through breathing or swallowing, lead targets the nervous system, in adults and children alike. Long-term exposure is known to result in decreased performance in some tests that measure functions of the nervous system. Lead exposure may also cause weakness in fingers, wrists or ankles.
It also causes small increases in blood pressure, particularly in middle-aged and older people. Lead exposure may also cause anemia. At high levels of exposure, lead can severely damage the brain and kidneys in adults or children and ultimately cause death. In pregnant women, high levels of exposure to lead may cause miscarriage. High-level exposure in men can damage the organs responsible for sperm production.
Commenting on the findings of the study, Perry Gottesfeld, Director Occupational Knowledge International and a leading expert on the issue, said: "The fact that one of the major brands has already taken out lead from their products shows that this can be done without any major disruption to the industry. Lead-based paints have already been banned in the U.S. and other countries."
"We want the Government and the industry to take note of the issue of heavy metal toxicity in daily use products in earnest and make a strong policy intervention by the way of creating a binding mechanism and a system to enforce it," asserted Mr. Agarwal.
Summary and key findings of the study:
• Most of the enamel paints contain high concentration of lead, well above 1000 ppm lead standard. Only one paint brand contains lesser amount of lead.
• Plastic and exterior paints contain low concentration of lead across the brands; the levels are below the Indian voluntary standard of 1000 ppm.
• Majority enamel samples (83.87 %) contained more than 600 or 1000 ppm of lead while 61.3 percent of samples had more than 5000 ppm.
• 38 percent of all samples, including plastic, enamel and exterior types, contained lead at levels above 600 ppm.