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Issue 10
February , 2009
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Colours discolouring lives

Painting a dark future...
Source: Toxics Link Fact Sheet, Date: July , 2005

Paints add colours to our lives. They are an everyday part of our surroundings. We paint our walls, our furniture, our cars, our buildings, and our bridges. Paints protect wood from rotting and metals from corroding. However, what we overlook is the potential environmental and health effects these colouful paints can have.

red paintComposition of paints and their harmful effects
Paints present a toxic concoction of various metals and compounds to be used as vehicles, pigments or additives. These include organic solvents, cadmium, chromium, mercury and lead.

Volatile Organic Compound
Organic solvents emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into their immediate environments. Exposure to VOCs over a long period of time leads to damage to nervous system, blood and kidneys. Some of the key symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin irritation, nausea, fatigue and dizziness.

A WHO report released in 1989 reveals that professional painters had a 40 per cent higher chance than a normal human to contract lung cancer, a higher risk of nervous system disorders and female painters were likely to suffer frequent miscarriages. It was also found that painters were more prone to producing children with birth defects, had a higher than average chance of developing brain tumours, cancers of stomach, lymph gland, larynx, kidney, prostrate gland and liver.

Lead
Lead is another composition in paints. Lead is readily inhaled or ingested in body and can be found in blood, soft tissues and bones where it can remain for long periods. Lead disturbs calcium metabolism and hinders the development of chemical communication between neurons in the brains and cellular activities. At high levels it tends to cause convulsions, reproductive health problems, digestive disorders and high blood pressure, nervous disorder, coma and even death.

Lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies and tissues of children. Tests have revealed that over 52 percent of children below the age of 12 living in major urban areas of India have elevated levels of blood lead. Unlike in developed countries like the USA, UK and Germany that have taken aggressive steps to combat lead poisoning, developing countries have been slow to establish any substantive measures to tackle the problem. An important reason is a lack of awareness and data.

A number of properties of lead make it commercially attractive for use in paints.

  • Has vibrance
  • It is easy to work with and durable
  • Low melting point
  • Has the ability to form carbon metal compounds
  • Holds pigments well
  • Is easily recyclable
  • Stands up well to outside weather elements
  • Has a high degree of corrosion resistance
  • Reduces paint drying time
  • Is inexpensive

In the form of lead carbonate and lead oxides it has excellent adhesion, drying and covering abilities.

Exposure to lead in paint can happen in various ways. Climatic changes and humidity lead to the peeling off of paints in homes, generating fine lead dust, which is inhaled or consumed by residents. Children are the most vulnerable to these toxic effects.

There is an increased formation of lead dust during repainting or renovation of houses, when prior to applying a fresh coat of paint on pre-painted walls, the existing paint is scraped or sanded using abrasive paper. This generates a lot of paint dust that settles on floors, walls and furniture. Under these conditions fine dust can be dispersed into the air through cleaning or by movement of people through the house and thus be inhaled.

The sixth session of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) was held in Dakar, Senegal from 15th to 19th September 2008 where a key resolution was adopted to promote the implementation of the measures to phase out lead from lead-based paints especially in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Toxics Link representing International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) moved this resolution. During the VI session it was proposed to establish an ad-hoc Working Group following the lead sponsor approach to prepare a draft terms of reference for a global partnership to be submitted to the International Conference on Chemicals Management II (ICCM-II) to consider taking a decision to support concerted action to promote the implementation of the measures contained in the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), Plan of Implementation (POI) paragraph 57. The WSSD POI in paragraph 57 states, “Phase out lead in lead-based paints and in other sources of human exposure, work to prevent, in particular, children's exposure to lead and strengthen monitoring and surveillance efforts and the treatment of lead poisoning.” The ICCM-II is tentatively scheduled to be held from 11 to 15 May 2009 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), convened from 26 August to 4 September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa took two decisions to protect children’s health from exposure to lead. Paragraph 56 (b) of the WSSD POI called for: “Supporting the phasing out of lead in gasoline.” It was also noted that considerable progress has been made toward achieving a global phase out of lead in automotive paints which was primarily the important work of the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) in its implementation of WSSD POI Paragraph 56 (b). The other decision of WSSD to protect children’s exposure from lead was paragraph 57 as stated above.

During the sixth session the IFCS, a side event was also held on ‘Lead in Paints in Developing Countries: An Unfinished Agenda’ in which continued use of lead in paints in countries across the developing world and the risks to human health associated due to presence of lead in paints were thoroughly discussed. Lack of regulations and low levels of awareness on the health hazards of lead in the developing countries were the points of concerns.The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), International Labour Organisations (ILO) and World Health Organisations (WHO) formed IFCS in April 1994 on the recommendations of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in year 1992. The IFCS provides an open, transparent and inclusive forum for discussing issues of common interest and also new and emerging issues in the area of sound management of chemicals.

IFCS plays a unique multi-faceted role as a flexible, open and transparent brainstorming and bridge-building forum for Governments, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations including from the private sector. This role has facilitated consensus building on issues and actions addressing the sound management of chemicals. By its efforts it contributes to the implementation of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and the work of other chemicals-related international organizations and institutions.

Adopted Resolution for Eliminating Lead in Paints

The delegates of the IFCS, Forum, VI, at its meeting at Dakar, Senegal, 15th-19th, September, 2008: -

  • Recognising that lead in paints poses serious risks to human health and the environment, and especially to the health of children,
  • Taking into account that most children exposed to lead live in developing countries and countries with economies in transition,
  • Being that household paints sold in developing countries contain lead,
  • Aware that safer and affordable alternatives already exist for lead in paints,
  • Affirming that many consumers especially in developing countries, are unaware of the dangers posed by lead in paints
  • Noting that WSSD POI paragraph 56 (b) supports the phasing out of lead in gasoline;
  • Applauding the important work of the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) in its implementation of WSSD POI paragraph 56 (b)
  • Further noting that much progress has being made toward achieving a global phase out of lead in automotive fuels,
  • Recognising that the WSSD POI in paragraph 57 also calls for the phasing out of lead in lead-based paints and in other sources of human exposure, and calls for work to prevent, in particular, children's exposure to lead and to strengthen monitoring and surveillance efforts and the treatment of lead poisoning;
  • Decides that a global partnership to promote the implementation of the measures contained in WSSD POI paragraph 57 is essential, especially for developingcountries and countries with economies in transition;
  • Further decides to support the phase out of lead in lead-based paints.
  • Requests the Forum Standing Committee to establish an ad-hoc Working Group following the lead sponsor approach to prepare a draft Terms of Reference for a global partnership to be submitted to the ICCM-2 to consider taking a decision to support concerted action to promote the implementation of the measures contained in WSSD POI paragraph 57.
  • Invites the Governing Bodies of relevant Intergovernmental Organisations, including UNEP, WHO, and other IGOs to support and participate in such an initiative.
  • Invites the UNEP Governing Council at its 25th Session to consider providing support for such concerted action.

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