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A Toxics-Free Future


Lead us not into toxic paints

CONSUMERLINE By Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star)

Lead us not into lead poisoning. That may well be our plea/prayer as the global community observes the 3rd annual International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action on Oct. 25-31. With the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint (GAELP), jointly run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), taking the lead, this is a good opportunity to call attention to this very important public health and safety issue.

Consider these grim facts. According to WHO, “lead poisoning is entirely preventable, yet lead exposure is estimated to account for 0.6% of the global burden of disease, with the highest burden in developing regions.”

Exposure to lead during childhood, says WHO, contributes to about 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities per year.

Children may ingest or inhale lead in household dust, paint chips or contaminated soil through their usual hand-to-mouth activities.  Kids like to put everything they get hold of into their mouths. According to the “Lead in Household Dust in the Philippines” report published by the EcoWaste Coalition and IPEN, “once lead enters a child’s body through ingestion or inhalation or across the placenta, it has the potential to damage a number of biological systems and pathways.”

Lead primarily targets the central nervous system (CNS) and the brain, but it can also affect the blood, the kidneys, and the skeleton.

“There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe,” goes the alarming WHO warning.

Even at low levels, lead exposure can cause serious and irreversible health effects such as permanent brain and CNS damage; mental retardation; learning disabilities; disorders in coordination, visual, spatial, and language skills; blood and reproductive damage; and behavioral problems like aggression and violence.

The consensus to reduce, if not eliminate, preventable sources of childhood lead exposure has prompted various sectors, globally and locally, to act.  For example, GAELP was established “to catalyze the efforts of diverse stakeholders to achieve international goals to eliminate lead paint.” According to GAELP,  “one of the most common and concentrated sources of lead exposure for children are lead paint and paint dust,” which can continue for a long time with the deterioration or removal of the lead paint.

In the Philippines, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Philippine Association of Paint Manufacturers and the EcoWaste Coalition worked collaboratively to adopt a national regulation in the form of a Chemical Control Order that sets a 90 parts per million (ppm) threshold limit for lead in paints.  Leaded decorative and leaded industrial paints would be phased out by December 2016 and December 2019, respectively.  Paint companies are taking steps to complete their transition to non-lead paint production in conformity with the said regulation, which, by the way, also prohibits the use of lead in the production of toys, school supplies, cosmetics, beverage and food packaging, water pipes, and fuel additives.

In addition to adopting one of the strongest lead paint regulations in the world, we should be proud that our country’s top paint manufacturers Boysen and Davies are participating in the world’s first third party “Lead-Safe Paint Certification Program.” Upon the successful completion of the verification procedures by SCS Global Services, the companies would be entitled to place the “Lead-Safe Paint” mark on their certified products.  This distinct logo will make it easier for paint consumers to identify products that are compliant with the 90 ppm limit and pose no lead exposure hazard to kids, pregnant women, and workers.   It is hoped that other companies would follow suit in due time.

Currently, the EcoWaste Coalition is actively promoting the adoption of  a “Lead-Safe Paint Procurement Policy” by bulk paint purchasers such as the government, schools, property developers, etc.  This policy will provide a clear guidance to the purchasing unit of an entity that only certified paints would be procured and applied for exteriors and interiors of facilities and amenities, particularly those frequently visited and used by children, the group said.

“It sends a message that the facility or amenity management is taking concrete action to prevent users’ exposure to lead.  It creates an awareness of the lead paint regulation among stakeholders, supports its enforcement, pushes industrial compliance, and drives consumer demand for lead-safe paint products,” the group points out.

The benefits of adopting a “Lead-Safe Paint Procurement Policy” are many, including:

• Contributing to the proactive prevention of childhood lead exposure through lead paint and dust.

• Making the maintenance, repair, and renovation of painted surfaces simpler and less hazardous.

• Minimizing the hazardous content of construction debris and waste, and making their management less complicated.

• Avoiding the exorbitant costs associated with lead paint abatement and removal.

• Boosting market demand for lead- safe paint and reducing prices with the increased demand.

• Increasing stakeholders’ awareness and understanding of lead poisoning and its prevention.

The work is slowly bearing fruits.  For instance, De La Salle University-Dasmariñas, through its Environmental Resource Management Center, has developed a procurement policy requiring that “paints should be lead-safe certified.”

The use of lead-safe paints in homes, day care centers, schools, playgrounds, and other places will surely help in reducing lead exposure risks for children and other vulnerable groups.  It is hoped that big paint purchasers such as national and local governments, housing estates and educational institutions would, on their own volition, adopt a lead-safe procurement policy.  This will help create a healthier and safer environment where our children can live, learn, play — and dream!