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Paint With High Lead Levels Still Found Worldwide

August 26, 2009

A new study shows that paint with dangerously high lead levels is still being sold for household use all over the world, putting hundreds of millions of young children at risk of permanent brain damage, Reuters reported.

Throughout the years, paint manufacturers have dramatically lowered the lead levels allowed in paint, according to research published in the journal Environmental Research.

The U.S. has banned the sale of new paint containing more than 600 parts per million (ppm) of lead since 1978, but just this month it dropped the permissible lead level in new paint to 90 ppm.

However, there is strong evidence that high lead paint is still being sold in other countries, and used to paint homes, schools, toys and even playgrounds. China, Singapore, and South Africa recently introduced limits on the lead content of household paints and India has instituted a voluntary standard.

The new study tested samples of 373 different enamel paints being sold for household use, with at least 10 samples for each country.

Dr. C. Scott Clark of the University of Cincinnati and colleagues found that the percentage of samples with lead levels at 600 ppm or above ranged from 32.8 percent for China and 36.6 percent for Singapore to nearly 90 percent for Thailand and 96 percent for Nigeria. Researchers tested 41 samples in Singapore, where the lowest average lead content ranged from 6,988 ppm, and 10 samples in Ecuador showed 31,960 ppm.

The authors noted that children around the world are at risk of lead poisoning from battery recycling operations, smelting plants, and other sources, including lead paint.

Clark told Reuters Health that lead was historically used to prevent paint from cracking with changes in temperature, but safer alternative additives have long been available.

But many of the 12 countries where Clark’s team conducted their research had low-lead paints available at a cost comparable to that of the high-lead products.

“It’s clear that the situation can be different,” he said.

He said a United Nations panel in May called for the formation of a worldwide partnership to ban the use of lead in paint.

“We’re hoping that this will at least encourage countries to change their laws and that the public will become aware that they should be concerned about it,” Clark added.

However, he noted that even if such a ban is achieved, children are still at risk of being poisoned by dust from old, deteriorating lead paint.

Nevertheless, addressing lead paint poisoning is a relatively surmountable public health problem, compared to many others out there, he added.

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