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A Toxics-Free Future


Report highlights need for greater lead regulation in Eastern Africa

Experts caution against exposure to lead, say it can cause permanent brain damage

- Originally appeared in Nile Post 30 October 2021

As Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action (ILPPWA) which for the case of this year runs from 24th - 30th October, 2021, health and environmental experts have warned that Ugandan children risk getting the problem of permanent brain damage if they continue getting exposed to lead paint.

While addressing the media in Kampala this week, Dr. Wasswa John, the Head of the Chemistry Department at Makerere University revealed that lead is a highly toxic metal that causes a range of health problems if one is exposed to it.

Dr. Wasswa noted that when lead is absorbed into someone’s body, it can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs such as kidneys and can cause diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, nerves and blood clot as well as stroke in adults and that even at very low-level exposures, lead can negatively impact young children by causing behavioural problems, learning disabilities, seizures and in extreme cases, death.

Lead poisoning usually occurs over a period of months or years.

Muyambi Ellady, the Secretary General for Uganda Network on Toxic Free Malaria Control (UNETMAC), a Ugandan national network of NGOs that strives to achieve a malaria free world as a toxic free future, revealed that many paint manufacturers, including some of the world’s largest transnational paint companies, continue to produce and sell lead paints which they classify as “industrial paints”.

He noted that according to studies provided by the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), an international organisation that promotes safe and sustainable chemical use, lead paints used for cars, road markings, ships, bridges, and steel structures are a significant source of environmental contamination.

UNETMAC requested government to promulgate/enact a law that regulates lead content and specifically lead paint because alternatives to lead paint are available and affordable and that lead use in so-called industrial paint must be prohibited.

In 2002, the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development called for the phase-out of lead-based paints and in 2009, the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) asked the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to establish a global partnership to promote phasing out lead in paint.

Few countries in Africa regulate the lead content in decorative paints. South Africa has adopted binding, regulatory controls limiting lead in decorative paint to 600 ppm. Cameroon enacted a regulation in September, 2017 banning the manufacture, importation and marketing of paints containing more than a total of 90 ppm lead.

Legally binding standards based on a total 90ppm maximum limit on the lead content of paint are also underway in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. In May 2016, the East African Community (EAC) adopted a 100ppm lead limit in new standards for various types of paint, as measured by migration of lead from the paint.