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A Toxics-Free Future

Get Toxic Lead Out of Paint for Children’s Health

UNEP Regional Office for Asia Pacific interview with Mr. Manny Calonzo, Global Lead Paint Elimination Advisor, IPEN

Toxic chemicals and hazardous substances is an area of growing concern in Southeast and East Asia and one of several topics discussed at the 4th Regional Forum on Environment and Health, which takes place this week in Manila, Philippines from 6-8 October 2016[1]. The UN Environment interviewed Manny Calonzo, Global Lead Paint Elimination Advisor and past co-chair of IPEN, a global organization working to establish safe chemicals policies and practices, on his work on lead in paint and decorative paints used by households.  Calonzo contributed to the development and adoption of a major legislation in the Philippines, which sets a threshold of 90 parts per million for lead in paint and established a phaseout for lead in decorative and industrial paints.  He’s part of the environmental watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition, which runs a campaign on chemical safety and zero waste.

Q1. Where does lead in paint stand now globally? Is it completely eliminated?

Lead in decorative paints has been banned in most industrialized countries four decades ago.            In Asia Pacific, 6 out 7 Asian countries where NGOs actively campaigned for lead paint elimination now have enacted or have regulation pending.  These are Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Thailand. Legally binding standards on lead in paint is also underway in Ethiopia, Cameroon and Tanzania. In addition, the East African Community has now adopted mandatory standards restricting the use of lead in paint.

In 2016, the world’s largest paint producer, PPG Industries, with its headquarters in the United States of America, announced it removed lead from its consumer paint brands and products in all countries. It also pledged that by 2020, it will remove lead from all its paint and coating products. This follows an earlier 2011 announcement by Akzo Nobel, a Dutch multinational company and the world’s second largest paint producer, that it had already removed lead from all its paint product lines. Major paint producers in low- and middle-income countries are also eliminating lead from paints. 

Q2. Who are vulnerable to lead paint? What are possible health impacts if this issue is not addressed?

Children are most susceptible to lead exposure. Their developing brains and organs are especially vulnerable and harmed at much lower levels of lead typically found in soil or dust. As pointed out in WHO-published “Childhood Lead Poisoning,” children absorb up to five times ingested lead as adults, and children with nutritional deficiencies absorb ingested lead at increased rates.[i]

The younger the child, the more harmful lead can be, and the health effects are generally irreversible and can have lifelong consequences. The human fetus is the most vulnerable, as a pregnant woman can transfer lead that has accumulated in her body to her developing child.[ii] Lead is also transferred through breast milk when lead is present in a nursing mother.[iii] "There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe", according to WHO.

Q3 Where does this issue stand in Asia Pacific?

As reported in the UNEP “Global Report on the Status of Legal Limits on Lead in Paint,” 32 countries in Asia and the Pacific and 8 in Western Asia do not have lead paint controls. 

Sri Lanka adopted lead paint regulation for decorative paints in 2011, Philippines in 2013, Nepal in 2014 and Thailand in 2015.  Bangladesh and India are close to finalizing their regulation, while the process in Indonesia has been delayed.  The Malaysian government has taken notice of the paint study released on March 22, 2016 by the Consumers’ Association of Penang and IPEN that found high concentrations of lead in 16 of 39 samples of enamel household paints.  In Taiwan, the Bureau of Standards, Metrology and Inspection initiated a standard-setting process following the release on May 18, 2016 of a paint study by the Taiwan Watch Institute and IPEN, which detected high lead concentrations in 31 out of the 47 enamel household paints.  In China, 70 of the 141 paints analyzed by Insight Explorer and IPEN had total lead content above 600 ppm. These lead-containing paints would not be allowed for sale in most countries that have legal restrictions on lead in paint.  Elsewhere in the region, lead in decorative paints continues to be produced, marketed and used.

Q4.  Is lead in paint still a problem in the Philippines? Can you explain how this was addressed?

Lead is still a problem in the Philippines as the industry-wide shift to non-lead paint manufacturing is still evolving.  While the country’s top two paint manufacturers have eliminated lead from their product lines and have, in fact, received Lead Safe Paint certification for five of their paint brands, other companies have yet to comply with the 90 ppm threshold.  The prospect of compliance is, nonetheless, good as seven paint companies, including small and medium size paint enterprises have committed to abide by the regulation.

To promote industrial compliance to the regulation, the EcoWaste Coalition is actively promoting two complementary initiatives - the Lead Safe Paint® Certification Program and the Lead Safe Paint Procurement Policy – to drive consumer demand for compliant paints.  We are paying attention to other prohibited and health damaging uses of lead not covered by the Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds. 

Q5. Can you share some steps you took to advocate and eliminate lead in paint in the Philippines?

The EcoWaste Coalition collaborated with IPEN in analyzing samples of solvent-based paints for lead content in accredited laboratories in Europe.  We used the lab data and those from our own toxic metals screening of common consumers products such as toys to raise public awareness on the hazards of lead in paints and products and to bolster our call for regulatory measures. 

We linked up with influential groups and prominent personalities from the government, industry, the medical profession and civil society and forged a broad consensus on the urgency of regulating lead in paints and products.  We actively participated in policy dialogues convened by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and worked with other stakeholders to push for a health-protective policy on lead in paint.

Following the promulgation of the Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds, EcoWaste Coalition and the Philippine Association of Paint Manufacturers organized three consultative meetings in 2014, which led to the adoption of the Lead Safe Paint® certification standard.  Top paint manufacturers Pacific Paint (Boysen) Philippines, Inc. and Davies Paints Philippines, Inc. eventually applied and received their Lead Safe Paint® certification from SCS Global Services, a certifying body. 

Q6. What advice would you give to a country/counterpart in another country trying to promote, advocate for policy and action on lead in paint?

The way things are done in one country will naturally differ from another.  However, our campaign experience in the Philippines taught us some basic ingredients for success: periodic studies to determine lead content of paints in domestic market and track progress; raise  awareness among consumers, regulators and businesses;  engage all stakeholders; identify champions from the government; dialogue with related industry and their associations; and put in place an independent, third party certification program that provides recognition  and enable consumers to make informed choices.  For local civil society groups like the EcoWaste Coalition, we also realized the need to be an active partner of a global network like IPEN, which has provided us with strategic advice and assistance.

Q7. What advice would you give to the ministry of environment and to the ministry of health in Asia and the Pacific in addressing environment and health linkages?

The Ministry of Environment should work with the Ministry of Health, other agencies and the civil society to promote ratification and implementation of multilateral environmental agreements such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change of 2015, the Minamata Convention on Mercury of 2013 and the Basel Ban Amendment of 1995.

The Ministry of Health, together with the Ministry of Environment, other agencies and stakeholders, should push for a national policy instrument to prohibit or restrict the manufacture, sale and use of lead-containing paints in line with the decision of the 4th Session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management to eliminate lead paint by 2020.

Further information:


For media enquiries, contact: Ms. Satwant Kaur, Regional Information Officer, United Nations Environment Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Tel: + (66 2) 2882127; Mobile: + (66 8) 17001376, Email:

[1] The Regional Forum on Environment and Health in Southeast and East Asian Countries is an initiative of 14 countries (ASEAN + 4) to strengthen cooperation of environment and health authorities within and among the countries. This year’s meeting, on the theme "Environment and Health at the Centre of Sustainable Development", is jointly organized by UN Environment and World Health Organization Asia Pacific  offices and hosted by the Philippines Government.