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EU-funded study finds high lead levels in paints in Sri Lanka

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50% of Paints Have High Lead Levels (>600 ppm)

The majority of paints analyzed in seven Asian countries contains unsafe levels of lead; would not meet regulatory standards established in most highly industrialized countries; and, in a number of cases, have astonishingly high lead content, according to a new report. The Asian Regional Paint Report will be released on March 23, 2014 by IPEN and partner organizations in the seven countries at the 4th Asia-Pacific Regional meeting of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) convened by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). For copies and detailed results of the study, please go to

“It is well established that there is no safe blood level of lead, especially for children and developing fetuses, so it is very shocking to find such high levels of lead in paints being sold throughout Asia. Safe, cost effective alternatives to lead have been in use for many years, so there is absolutely no reason for continuing to add lead to paint products in Asia,” said Centre for Environmental Justice.
The Asian Lead Paint Elimination Project is being implemented by IPEN in seven countries (Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand) with the European Union (EU) funding of EUR 1.4 million. Center for Environmental Justice is a partner in Sri Lanka. The Asian Regional Paint Report provides findings from an analysis of 803 paints purchased in seven Asian countries: Bangladesh (90 paints), India (250 paints), Indonesia (78 paints), Nepal (49 paints), Philippines (122 paints), Sri Lanka (94 paints), and Thailand (120 paints).

In Sri Lanka, 97 paint samples from 57 brands were analyzed. Key findings include:

• 59 of the 94 (63%) paints analyzed had lead levels above 90 parts per million (ppm) and would not be permitted for sale in most industrialized countries. Overall, more than three-quarters of the paints analyzed in all seven countries had lead levels above 90 ppm.

• 24 of 94 samples (25%) contained extremely dangerous levels of lead above 10,000 ppm. Overall, at least a quarter of all paints from all countries had lead content above 10,000 ppm.

• Overall, brightly colored paints (green, red and yellow) contained the highest lead levels.

• Some of the major paint brands that had high levels of lead in previously conducted studies in these same countries now have levels below 90 ppm.

• Paints with low levels of lead were available in all markets at prices comparable to the leaded products, suggesting that the technology exists to produce cost effective, lead-safe products.

• None of the paint cans containing lead stated this on the label or explained the hazards associated with lead.

The effects of low level lead exposure in children are lifelong and irreversible. Evidence of reduced intelligence due to childhood lead exposure has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to list ‘lead caused mental retardation’ as a recognized disease. Damage to children’s intelligence and mental development occurs, even when there are no obvious or clinical signs of lead poisoning. Recent WHO guidelines indicate that there is no known acceptable lead exposure level for children.
Children are exposed to lead in paint when painted surfaces deteriorate over time and lead settles into household dusts and soils. Children, particularly children aged 1-6, ingest the lead though normal hand-to-mouth behavior.

A recent study investigated the economic impact of childhood lead exposure on national economies and estimated a total cumulative loss of $977 billion international dollars per year for all low and middle income countries. In Asia, the cumulative loss is estimated to be $699.9 billion or 1.88% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Specific losses in the countries included in the study are: Bangladesh $15.9 billion or 5.9% of GDP; India, $236 billion or 5.2% of GDP; Indonesia $37.9 billion or 3.4% of GDP; Nepal, $1.53 billion or 4% of GDP; Philippines, $15 billion or 3.8% of GDP: Sri Lanka, $1.76 or 1.5% GDP; Thailand, $12.5 billion or 2.1% of GDP. Oil-based enamel decorative paints were purchased between November 2012 and February 2013 by local NGOs in each of the seven countries. All paints were purchased in local markets and stores frequented by the general public. The 803 paints purchased represent 404 brands. All countries used the same paint sample preparation protocol, and lead paint analysis was conducted by Certottica, a certified laboratory located in Italy.

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