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Philippine group finds excessive lead levels in 37 imported spray paints

Paint products in aerosol cans containing high levels of lead are still offered for sale by offline and online retailers despite the ban on such paints, according to the toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition.

EcoWaste Coalition
Painted laths sent to lab for lead content analysis

The group made this revelation as the globally-acclaimed Chemical Control Order (CCO) phasing out lead in all paint categories marked its eight anniversary on December 23, 2021. Last June 29, the Philippines received the coveted Future Policy Award (special category for lead in paint) for being the first country in Southeast Asia to successfully implement a regulation toward lead-safe paint.

“We find it very disappointing to find more lead-containing spray paints being sold at retail stores and online shopping sites in violation of the CCO. These decorative paints, which are marketed for general use and are accessible to consumers, should have been phased out on December 31, 2016,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.  

“The unlawful importation of non-compliant paint products has to stop right away. We urge our customs, trade, environmental and health regulators to take swift action to prevent children’s and workers’ exposure to such paints with added lead, a cumulative poison affecting multiple body systems, including the brain and the central nervous system,” said Manny Calonzo, Lead Paint Elimination Campaign Adviser, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN).

Promulgated in 2013 just before Christmas, the CCO issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) stipulates a maximum limit of 90 parts per million (ppm) for lead in paint, and sets a three-year period (2013-2016) to phase-out leaded decorative paints and a longer six-year period (2013-2019) for leaded industrial paints.

Both the EcoWaste Coalition and IPEN contributed to the development of the CCO and had been conducting lead paint studies, public information and policy advocacy activities in pursuit of the country’s shift to non-lead paint production backed by the Philippine Association of Paint Manufacturers (PAPM).

For its latest lead paint investigation, the EcoWaste Coalition in October – November 2021 procured a total of 60 spray paints representing 16 brands that were obtained from online dealers and from various retail stores in 11 cities, including Angeles, Antipolo, Batangas, Calamba, Lucena, Mabalacat, Malolos, Manila, Paranaque, San Fernando, and San Jose del Monte Cities. Costing P55 to P340 each, the samples were mostly imported from China and Thailand.

The sampled products are often labeled as ideal for almost all types of surfaces and painting applications and can be used to touch up scratches or spruce up bikes, cars, motorcycles, household appliances, accessories and decors, as well as a material for school projects.

The samples were initially screened for lead through a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyser and the 37 samples that exceeded the 90 ppm limit were subsequently submitted to SGS, a private testing company, for confirmatory total lead content analysis performed by inductively coupled plasma – optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES).

Laboratory test results confirmed that the 37 samples representing 11 brands contained violative lead concentrations up to 97,100 ppm. Of the 37 samples, 30 had extremely high lead concentrations in excess of 10,000 ppm, and of these 30 samples, 23 had lead above 40,000 ppm. The remaining seven samples had lead levels between 428 to 4,850 ppm. None of these leaded paints were manufactured by PAPM-affiliated companies.

The lead-containing “Sinag” and “Korona” spray paint samples were marked “lead free” or contained a pictogram indicating no Pb (the chemical symbol for lead), the EcoWaste Coalition and IPEN said.

“Products labeled as ‘lead free’ when they are not give consumers a false assurance about a product’s lead content.  This case of mislabeling points to the importance of third-party certification that will independently confirm compliance to the 90 ppm lead in paint standard,” the groups insisted.

Additionally, the EcoWaste Coalition also found seven other leaded spray paints that it previously sent to the laboratory for lead content analysis still on sale in retail stores, including Best Drive Extreme One Spray Paint (deep green and lemon yellow), Koby Spray Paint (medium yellow), MKT Spray Paint (art yellow), MR. D.I.Y. Spray Paint (orange), Super 7 Spray Paint (yellow), and Yandy Spray Paint (grass green).

Aside from proposing immediate regulatory action, the EcoWaste Coalition reminded consumers to refrain from buying inadequately labeled and uncertified paint products, while urging manufacturers, including those that export paints to the Philippines, to obtain third-party Lead Safe Paint® certification to help consumers in picking paints without lead in excess of the 90 ppm limit.

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