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A Toxics-Free Future

New Study Shows Some Paints with High Lead Levels Sold in Online Stores in South Korea

IPEN Press Release

One Anticorrosive Paint Contained 23% Lead

(Seoul, South Korea) - A new study on lead in solvent-based paints sold for home use in South Korea released today by Wonjin Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health (WIOEH) and IPEN finds that some industrial paints containing high levels of lead are sold for home use. One red anticorrosive paint purchased in an online store contained 230,000 ppm of lead, which is 23 percent of the paint’s entire content. In comparison, the UN Environment Programme recommends a total regulatory lead limit of 90 parts per million (ppm) for all types of paint. Four paints in the study contained lead levels above that.

Lead paint is prohibited for home use, as well as severely restricted for all uses, in most other OECD countries. Regulatory lead limits in other Asian countries include 90 ppm for all paint in the Philippines and 100 ppm for all paint in Thailand. 

“Leaded gasoline and lead in paint is a two-horse source for lead poisoning in children. In 1992, Korea introduced unleaded gasoline policy without resistance. But, policy for restriction on lead content in paint is still based on old regulation of advanced countries. So, it is urgent issue to amend the regulation even stricter in Korea like other OECD members,” said Won Kim, Director, WIOEH.

The health impacts of childhood lead exposure are irreversible and lifelong. Children ages six years and below are the most vulnerable as their brains start to develop. Safer alternatives to lead are available and used in architectural decorative paints in most OECD countries, as also shown is the case for South Korea in this study. However, lead is continually added in many industrial paints sold for home use and commercially available in retail stores.

“Lead paint is a major source of childhood lead poisoning and no known levels of lead exposure are considered safe,” said Dr. Sara Brosché, Global Lead Paint Elimination Campaign Manager, IPEN. “Safe, cost-effective alternatives to lead are available for all types of paint, making this an obsolete technology. Our study indicates that while decorative paint sold in Korea do not generally contain added lead, other types of paint containing extremely high levels of lead are easily available for home use in online retails stores. Together with WIOEH, we therefore call on the Government of South Korea to adopt and enforce strong regulatory controls to ban the use of lead in all types of paints.”

In November 2018, WIOEH purchased a total of 23 cans of solvent-based paint sold for home use representing 11 brands produced by eight manufacturers from various stores and internet shopping malls in South Korea. Ten brands were manufactured in South Korea and one brand was imported from Denmark. Samples from these paints were analyzed by an accredited laboratory in the USA for total lead content.

Key findings from the report, Lead in Solvent-Based Paints for Home Use in South Korea, include:

  • One-sixth (17 percent) of the analyzed solvent-based paints contained lead concentrations above 90 ppm. Moreover, nine percent of the paints contained dangerously high lead concentrations above 10,000 ppm.
  • The highest lead concentration detected was 230,000 ppm in a red anticorrosive paint sold for home use.
  • Only three paints (13 percent of paints) provided information about lead on their labels and most paints carried little information about ingredients. No precautionary warnings on the effects of lead dust to children and pregnant women were provided.

There is currently no legally-binding regulation that prohibits the use of lead in paint in South Korea. While some existing Korean standards specify a 600-ppm maximum permissible limit for lead in paints used in toys and select places where children spend their time (e.g., kindergarten or elementary school), a new standard that will establish a maximum total lead content of 90 ppm in all types of paints, including decorative, architectural and industrial paints, is needed to be established to protect human health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes lead paint as a major source of “lead-caused mental retardation,” a disease WHO identifies as one of the top ten diseases whose health burden among children was due to modifiable environmental factors. WHO further states that “there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.”[1]

Key recommendations made in the report include:

  • Government: For the Ministry of Environment to immediately establish a regulation that will ban the manufacture, import, export, distribution, sale (via retail and online stores) and use of all paints (including industrial paints) that contain total lead concentrations exceeding 90 ppm. Existing standards on lead in paint must be strengthened and mandatorily enforced. Paint companies must be required to display sufficient information indicating harmful content and warnings on paint can labels.
  • Industry: Stop the use of lead-based pigments, driers, and other additives in paint formulations, and shift to non-hazardous alternatives. Paint companies that have shifted to non-lead paint production should get their products certified through independent, third party verification procedures to verify “lead-free” claims.
  • Consumers: Purchase and use paints with no added lead, especially in places frequently used by children such as homes, schools, day care centers, parks and playgrounds, and demand full disclosure of a paint product’s content.

About IPEN

IPEN is a global non-government organization (NGO) with over 500 participating organizations in 121 countries working for a toxics-free future. It has conducted studies of lead in paint in more than 50 countries and is a member of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint Advisory Council. For information, visit www.ipen.org.

About WIOEH

The Wonjin Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health (WIOEH) was established in 1999 with the compensation money secured from strikes of a Wonjin carbon disulfide poisoning victims (about 1,000 victims up to now). WIOEH is the affiliated research institute of the foundation which was established by the victims. Members of WIOEH have been participating in diverse studies searching for the causes and solutions encountered in issues at occupational or environmental area. For more information, visit http://wioeh.org.

For More Information:

Kim Won, WIOEH, +82-2-490-2098,  gganna@hanmail.net
Sara Brosché
, IPEN, +46 31 7995900, sarabrosche@ipen.org
Jeiel Guarino
, IPEN, +46 31 7995930, jeielguarino@ipen.org


[1] World Health Organization. Lead poisoning and health (2015). Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs379/en/.

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