Bright yellows, reds,
blues and greens coat a day care center's walls, fence, slide and swing. More
colorful paints peel from tables inside a kindergarten classroom.
a common sight," said Yuyun Ismawati, coordinator of the Indonesia
Toxics-Free Network, referencing the prolific use of potentially toxic paint in
schools and other kid-friendly facilities throughout Indonesia.Lead poisoning may be a risk at this brightly
painted day care in Indonesia. (Balifokus Foundation, Indonesia)
latecomers in the use of decorative and household paints, Indonesia and its
neighbors throughout the developing Asia-Pacific are making up for lost time:
The region is now the largest market in the world for paint. But this rapid
growth for the industry may come with some serious costs to children's health
and the nations' economies, according to a new European Union-sponsored study released
A team of international
researchers tested 803 paints purchased from stores in seven Asia-Pacific
countries and found that 76 percent contained more lead than the U.S.
regulatory standard of 90 parts per million. At least a quarter, generally with
the most vibrant pigments, consisted of more than 10,000 ppm of the neurotoxic
heavy metal, which is added as an inexpensive way to brighten color, speed
drying and prevent corrosion.
"I was not surprised
as much as horrified of the results," said Sara Brosche, project manager
at IPEN, a global organization advocating for environmental health issues, and
lead author on the new study. "Itís adding another burden on top of all
the other disadvantages that these countries are facing."
"Compared to other
issues with toxic chemicals, this is an easy one to prevent. You just donít
allow it," Brosche added.
The findings come nearly
a century after a 1921 international convention first limited the use of
lead-based paint. Lead's hazards to human health, particularly that of young
children, were already known at that time. Decades of accumulated evidence now
warns of significant impacts to learning and behavior and risks of chronic
diseases at even low levels of exposure -- generally through the lead dust from
1978, the U.S. followed other industrialized nations in banning lead from
household paints. With the exception of the risks lingering in older homes, "everyone thought
that lead paint was something in the past," Brosche said.
Meanwhile, in developing
countries such as Indonesia with little history of lead paint use, Ismawati
said, "people have no awareness about this danger."
Further, lead content was
not labeled on most of the paint cans surveyed on store shelves throughout the
Asia Pacific, according to IPEN's study. A few cans did reference being
lead-free, but that even turned out to be deceiving in some cases.
"The can would say
'no added lead,' but then there may be 20,000 ppm of lead," said Scott
Clark, professor emeritus of environmental health at the University of
Cincinnati and a co-author on the IPEN report. In addition to greater
transparency about lead content, Clark said that he and his colleagues are
pushing for labels on new paint cans that warn of lead dust from older painted
Advocates suggest it is
in the best interest of developing nations, and the bottom-lines of paint
makers, to take action and eliminate lead now.
know these paint markets are growing exponentially. If they continue to sell
lead paint, it's going to create a huge legacy issue down the road," said
Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of the nonprofit Occupational
Knowledge International. "The key here is that we want to avoid
that legacy issue by cutting it off now rather than 20 years from now."
testified in a trial last year over the liability of former lead paint makers for contamination of hundreds of
thousands of California homes. On Monday, a judge denied a motion for a new
trial from defendants Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries and ConAgra Grocery
Products. The companies will still be ordered to pay $1.1 billion into a fund
to be used to clean up hazards from the legacy paint.
saga continues," added Gottesfeld, who has also discovered high lead
concentrations in paints sold in other developing nations, as well as in at
least one overseas lead-based paint manufacturer that was owned by a U.S. company.
The risks of the
continued production and use of lead paint in Asia may also extend to nations
at the receiving end of their exports. In fact, according to Brosche, the
import into U.S. and Europe of toys coated with and containing high levels of
lead initially flagged this issue and prompted the work of IPEN and others.
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