Whenever a child shows a disability in learning, a violent behavior, paying no heed, a parent or a teacher would punish him, seldom someone would try to find the reason. Well, people who did has found that the heavy metal “Lead” is one of the culprits behind violent and anti-social behavior in children.
In Sri Lanka, this came into discussion, every time Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ) published their studies on lead. So, one might ask “are we done now”?
CEJ for so long has been working on household decorative paints. Which included “enamel, Lacquer, Anti-corrosive, floor paint and other oil based paints such as bright Aluminum paint. But we still have other paints in the market which are used on porcelain materials, printing ink and colors mixed in rubber and plastic. Unless certified, one or more of these could be a lead carrier.
For this week of action for “International lead poison prevention (22nd to 28th October 2017)”, may we all determine to eliminate lead from every paint application.
The International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is announced by the World Health Organization and The United Nations Environmental Program who jointly coordinate the Lead paint alliance, aiming at addressing awareness raising on health hazards of lead and take action on preventing childhood lead poisoning including eliminating lead in paint.
Why is lead harmful?
The main thing about lead is that there is no safe level of exposure to lead. Any minute amount can bring an adverse result, especially in children. Because their little bodies absorb 3-4 times lead than an average adult. The main organ affected by lead in the brain, thereby can result lowered IQ level, learning disabilities, violent behavior, juvenile delinquency, Seizures (sometimes referred to as a fit, the physical findings or changes in behavior that occur after an episode of abnormal electrical activity in the brain), slowed growth, attention deficit disorder (ADD), mental retardation, severe behavioral problems, hyperactivity and hearing loss.
The other organs can be affected by lead are; kidneys, liver, blood and reproductive system. Although any adult is vulnerable to lead poisoning, pregnant women are especially are vulnerable as, lead poisoning increases the risk of; miscarriages, low birth weight babies, stillbirths and underdeveloped babies.
Does paint sold in Sri Lanka have “lead”?
In brief, CEJ started this study in 2010 and filed a court case to obtain a legal standard for Paints in Sri Lanka. Which was succeeded and as a result, Sri Lanka has a law, binding every emulsion paint to a maximum of 90 ppm and enamel and floor paints to a maximum of 600ppm lead concentration. In 2012/13 and 2015 CEJ repeated testing oil-based paints in the market. By the end of the study in 2015, it was found that 54% of samples were below the level of 600 ppm (parts per million) and amongst 43% were below 90ppm. Yet, still there’ll be 46% of paints, yet to be avoided.
This is surprising, considering the awareness and support offered by CEJ to large, small and medium paint manufactures throughout the period. CEJ organized meetings to aware them and introduce lead safe raw material suppliers, Sri Lanka Standard Institution and even IPEN to manufacturers. So that they are able to produce and even certify their paint to be lead safe. CEJ also raised awareness among vendors, to ask for lead safety whenever they buy paint from manufacturers. Even then, there was no solution for the lead-contaminated paint in the market. That is one of the reasons why we need to pay attention to the paint we buy even today.
Why is paint so important?
According to studies, lead in paint has a direct connection to the lead we find in soil and dust around buildings and houses. When the paint starts chipping, it gets into the dust and soil, and a child (1- 6 years old) at average ingest around 110 micrograms of dust per day. When CEJ studied the levels of lead in the dust at selected pre-schools, schools and houses, it was found that 11 out of 20 facilities exceeded the lowest level of lead, (10 μg/ft2, micrograms per square feet) that can contribute to blood lead levels harmful to the developing brain. Amongst 3 locations had dust lead levels even exceeding 40 μg/ft2 the standard set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
So how should we avoid lead contamination?
In order to prevent the lead poisoning through paint, one must always select lead safe oil-based paints. Check the label for standardizing certificates or at least lead safe claims. Go for new paints whenever possible.
To prevent the exposure, it is recommended to cover old paint surfaces in a home with a new layer of lead-free paint without peeling off painted surfaces or without scraping old paint to form dust. When you must, just use water to prevent the formation of paint dust.
In preschools, child care facilities and houses with children, it is a good practice to clean the window sills, floor and toys with water on the regular basis in order to avoid ingestion of dust contaminated with lead. Better to avoid wooden and metal toys painted with enamel or lacquer in green, orange, yellow and red color. For pre-schools, teachers can ask for vendors to use lead-safe paints on toys or get the unpainted toys and paint themselves with lead-safe paint. An option would be to use stuffed toys.
Be mindful on any other paint applied products. Do not let children bite on them. Wash children’s hands thoroughly before every meal. Always have a balanced diet. A low-fat diet rich in calcium, iron and vitamin C, helps lowering absorption of lead into the body.
Just remember, effects of lead on the brain is irreversible but, lead poisoning is preventable.
Chalani Rubesinghe, Former Environmental Officer of CEJ.