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Paints in Côte d’Ivoire have high lead levels, study finds

Consumers can’t buy safe products because labels lack information about lead levels

The Jeunes Volontaires Pour L’environnement Cote d'Ivoire family. Photo credit: ipen.org
The Jeunes Volontaires Pour L’Environnement Cote d’Ivoire family. Photo credit: ipen.org

A new study on lead in decorative paints in Côte d’Ivoire released on Tuesday by Jeunes Volontaires Pour L’Environnement Cote d’Ivoire, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Abidjan, finds that more than half of the paints analysed have high lead levels and that little has changed since a similar study with similar results was released in 2013. Moreover, even when there are paint brands offering paint with lower levels of lead, consumers have no way of knowing it because none of the 53 paint cans analysed in the study carried information about lead content on the label, The study was released as a part of International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week and is one of four studies being released in Africa on lead in paint.

The results were presented to officials from government, paints manufacturers, funders, CSOs, pediatricians, and scientists at the occasion of the celebration of the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Health Organisation (WHO). The study was undertaken from December 2014 to March 2015 with paints commonly used by Ivorian consumers and manufactured at national level.

“The health impacts of lead exposure on young children’s brains are lifelong, irreversible and untreatable,” said Dominique Bally Kpokro, Programme Director of JVE- Cote d’Ivoire. “We must reduce this critical source of lead exposure to young children. A national, mandatory lead standard and regulatory framework for the manufacture, import, export, sale and use of lead paints and products coated with paint is needed to ensure the health and future potential of our children.”

“Due to the alarming situation caused by high levels of lead paint sold on the domestic market, Environmental authorities included the elimination of lead paint as a national priority in the national strategy for chemicals management and registered lead paint as hazardous products to be banned in the draft framework law on chemicals management in Côte d’Ivoire validated at a national workshop held in July 2015,” said Dr Say Martial, SAICM Focal Point and representative of the General Director of Environment of Côte d’Ivoire.

Also, Dr Bitty Marie-Josephe, Director of Hygiene, Environment and Health at the Ministry of Health and AIDS fight, argued that “lead poisoning had become a public health problem in Côte d’Ivoire. Thus, this study realized by JVE Côte d’Ivoire will serve as basis for decisions regard to lead paint regulation by health authorities”.

In 2015 Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement Côte d’Ivoire purchased 53 cans of solvent-based, enamel decorative paint, anticorrosive paint and colored paint to be mixed with white acrylic paint from various stores in different districts in Abidjan. The paints were from 19 brands, both locally produced by five manufacturers and exported in West Africa Countries. All paints were analysed by an accredited laboratory in the United States of America (USA) for their total lead content based on the dry weight of the paint. Key findings include:

  • General Sample Results: Most of the paints analysed had lead levels above 90 ppm, the regulatory standard in many countries (75% of decorative paints; 80% of anti-corrosive paints)
  • Results by Brand: One or more paints from 9 of the 13 brands of decorative paints sampled had lead content above 90 ppm as well as above 600 ppm; the paints from four of the five brands of anti-corrosive paints had lead content above a 90 ppm limit.
  • Extremely High Lead Levels: One or more paints from 8 brands (62%) had lead concentrations higher than 10,000 ppm
  • Paint Colors: Bright colors had the highest lead content. The highest lead content was found in Yellow paints, follow by green paints and red ones.
  • Lead Information on Labels: No paint can label from any brand provided information about the lead content of the paint or lead paint hazards.

The WHO calls lead paint “a major flashpoint” for children’s potential lead poisoning and says that “since the phase-out of leaded petrol, lead paint is one of the largest sources of exposure to lead in children.” Children are exposed to lead, when painted surfaces deteriorate over time and contaminate household dust and soils. Children, ages 0-6, engaging in normal hand-to-mouth behaviors are most at risk of damage to their intelligence and mental development from exposure to lead dust and soil.

JVE – CI began studying the lead content of paints and raising awareness of the hazards of lead paint in 2013, when its first paint analysis showed that the majority of paint analysed, even from major manufacturers, had high lead content. This study shows that many decorative paints on the market in Cote d’Ivoire contain high levels of lead, and no improvement has been seen in lead levels of the decorative paints included in both this and the 2013 study.

Most highly industrial countries adopted laws or regulations to control the lead content of decorative paints—the paints used on the interiors and exte­riors of homes, schools, and other child-occupied facilities—beginning in the 1970s and 1980s. Côte d’Ivoire does not currently have a specific policy or regulation for the content of lead in enamel decorative paints.

Key recommendations made in the report include:

National regulation. National efforts should be encouraged to promote the establishment of appropriate national regulatory frameworks to control the manufacture, import, export, sale and use of lead paints and products coated with lead paints, with priority given to the elimination of lead decorative paints and lead paints for other applications most likely to contribute to child­hood lead exposure.

Public awareness. Given the serious impact childhood lead poisoning has on both an individ­ual and a nation’s future, a public information campaign in Côte d’Ivoire should inform the public about the hazards of lead exposure, especially in children; the presence of paints with high lead content for sale and use on the national market; lead paint as a significant source of childhood lead exposure; and the availability of techni­cally superior and safer alternatives.

Voluntary action by paint manufacturers. Paint manufacturers should act voluntarily to eliminate lead compounds in the formulation of their paints – particularly, their dec­orative paints and paints for other applications likely to contribute to lead exposure in children and others before and after the national lead control legal instruments are in place. That some manufacturers are doing this now indicates that the technology exists in Côte d’Ivoire to make the shift to lead safe products. A best practice book could be realised by manufacturers to inform consumers on how paints are manufactured and how to use them safely.

The paint study was conducted as a part the African Lead Paint Elimination Project, which works with government, the paint industry and the public to raise awareness of the dangers associated with high lead levels in paint. The African Lead Paint Elimination Project is being carried out in four countries (Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tanzania) with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The UNEP is the Implementing Agency and IPEN is the Executing Agency for this project. IPEN is a network of 700 NGOs in more than 100 countries working for a toxics free future and is a member of the Advisory Committee for the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, an activity of UNEP and WHO. The Jeunes Volontaires Pour L’Environnement is responsible for Lead Paint Elimination Project activities in Côte d’Ivoire.

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