By Andrew Irumba
Several people are suffering with cancer and other health complications after getting in contact with lead, a chemical used in making some paints.
The term lead paint is used to describe any paint to which one or more lead compounds have been added. The cut-off concentration for lead paint used is 90 parts per million (ppm, dry weight of paint), the strictest legal limit enacted in the world today. altough most paints in Uganda don’t his the standards.
In the context of action to eliminate lead paint, the term ‘paint’ includes varnishes, lacquers, stains, enamels, glazes, primers and other coatings.
Paint is typically a formulated mixture of resins, pigments, fillers, solvents and other additives.
Lead paint is paint to which one or more lead compounds have been added to confer specific properties such as colour, corrosion-resistance or to speed up drying.
Lead compounds are primarily added to some solvent-based paints, such as enamel
(gloss) paints. The lead content of paint can range from less than 90 ppm (90 mg/kg) to over 100 000 ppm (100 000 mg/kg).
In paints with no added lead there may be a small amount present as a contaminant of the raw materials used in manufacture, but when a manufacturer takes care to source uncontaminated raw materials the
lead content is usually well below 90 ppm.
As way of fighting lead contamination, Uganda Network on Toxic Free Malaria Control (UNETMAC), a non-profit, Non- governmental Organization (NGO), joined the rest of the world in calling upon Ugandans to join efforts in eliminating lead paint.
This call was made by Ellady Muyambi, the Secretary General of UNETMAC while addressing a Presser in Kampala, whose participants included paint manufacturers, paint retailers, occupational workers in paint industries, people involved in (decorative) painting indoors, NGOs involved in environmental and health research and campaign, media personnel reporting on environmental health issues, researchers and academicians, policy makers and technical officials of the Ministries of Environment, Health, Trade and Industry among others.
Muyambi said that “The International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action (ILPPWA), was initiated by the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead in Paint (GAELP) from 20-26 October, 2013, as the campaign week specifically to raise awareness about lead poisoning including highlighting the sources of lead exposure, highlight efforts to prevent childhood lead poisoning and to urge further action to eliminate lead paint.”
He added that “Recent studies conducted by UNETMAC, and the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) in Uganda have confirmed that some paints in Uganda including varnishes, lacquers, stains, enamels, glazes, primers or coatings contain lead content which exceed the US Standard of 90ppm.”
He noted that a review of the lead poisoning regulations in Uganda confirm the absence of the regulatory framework for lead poisoning.
He for instance revealed that in 2012, UNETMAC in collaboration with the Occupational Knowledge International (OK International) and the Chemistry Department at Makerere University, collected, prepared and tested 100 white paint samples from eight brands from the Ugandan market for lead content and that three out of the eight brands were found to contain significant concentrations of lead, ranging from 2200-7700 ppm.
In 2016, UNETMAC also participated in the collection of paint samples under the IPEN project implemented by the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE).
Dr.David Akuban Ogaram, a renowned chemical consultant, revealed that lead paint or lead-based paint is paint containing lead.
“Lead is added to paint to accelerate drying, increase durability, maintain a fresh appearance, and resist moisture that causes corrosion and that the U.S government defines “lead-based paint” as any “paint”, surface coating that contains lead equal to or exceeding one milligram per square centimeter (1.0 mg/cm2) or 0.5% by weight.” Dr. Ogaram said.
Dr. Ogaram further noted that lead is a highly cumulative toxic metal that can cause serious health problems if it’s ingested or if dust containing lead is inhaled and that over time, paint-coated surfaces wear, deteriorate and chip. If there is lead in the paint, the lead contaminates indoor dust and outdoor soil.
He warned that adults are exposed to lead during construction and or during routine maintenance while young children get exposed to lead when they put their hands or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths, eat paint chips found in homes with peeling or flaking lead-based paint, chew paint that flakes off walls and woodwork or play in lead-contaminated soils and or mouth lead-painted toys and furniture.
Young children below the age of 6 years absorb lead more easily, and it’s more harmful for them than it is for adults and older children.
It was noted that at high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions and even death. Lead exposure is linked to elevated blood pressure, reduced cognitive potentials, reduced foetal growth and lower birth weight, economic loss and is associated with at least, 674,000 deaths per year globally and that children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with mental retardation and behavioural disorders and further that low levels of exposure to lead can cause health effects such as learning disabilities and behavioural problems in children.
Revealed also was the fact that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s blood.
Lead stays in the blood for several months and can be stored in the bones for 30 years or more. The more lead you are exposed to, the more likely you are to get lead poisoned.
From a legal perspective, Counsel Frank Taremwa from the government noted that although many developed countries such as the US, Canada and UK among others have regulations prohibiting the use of leaded paint for domestic/household use as well as public facilities such as schools and hospitals, it is still legal in those countries to use leaded paint for industrial applications for example; automobiles, farm equipment, bridges, highways, parking lots, guard rails, water towers, pipes, playground equipment, metal surfaces, utility poles and consumer products such as children’s toys among others. It is only Philippines which have a regulation on lead content of both residential and industrial paint.
Vital to note was the revelation that after the phase-out of leaded automotive fuels, lead in paint is now one of the largest and widespread sources of lead exposure today especially to young children and pregnant women and that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been engaged in action to address the environmental and health risks posed by lead, focusing to date on the phasing out of lead in fuels and paints.
Noted also was that fact that, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, governments called for lead paint to be phased out and that in 2011, UNEP, in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO), supported the formation of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint (GAELP), a global partnership aiming at promoting the establishment of lead paint laws to ban the use of lead in paint by 2020.
Further more, UNETMAC noted that since 2007, many international organizations such as the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), Occupational Knowledge International (OK International) and Toxics Link among others have been supporting national and global efforts to establish regulatory controls on the lead content of paints and that their campaigns have been targeting eliminating all the manufacture, import, export, sale and use of lead paint and that these organizations argue that alternatives such as water-based, lead-free traffic paint are readily available, and many states and federal agencies have changed their purchasing contracts to buy these instead.
All in all, it was made clear that despite these efforts, lead paint is still widely available in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has estimated that in 2017 lead exposure accounted for 1.06 million deaths and 24.4 million years lost to disability and death due to long-term effects on health, with the highest burden in developing regions. For instance, in Uganda, it is still legal to sell lead paint for use in homes, schools, hospitals, churches, and other buildings.
UNETMAC therefore called upon paint companies in Uganda to begin voluntary measures to reformulate and to stop adding lead compounds into their paint products. The government of Uganda was also encouraged by UNETMAC to formulate policies regarding the import/export and production/consumption of lead-based paint, including the labeling practices on paint containers made available on the Ugandan market.
In a survey carried out by WHO and the United Nations Environment Programme, (UNEP), which jointly coordinate the Lead Paint Alliance, as of 31 July 2019 only 72 governments confirmed that they have legally binding control measures on lead paint. But WHO has 194 Member States, so there is still, a significant gap to achieving the 2020 goal set by the Lead Paint Alliance that all countries should have banned lead paint.