and occupational health experts at the University of Cincinnati (UC)
have found that major countries—including India, China and
Malaysia—still produce and sell consumer paints with dangerously high
The report appears in the early online edition of the journal Environmental Research, to be published in September 2006.
say that this lead-based paint production poses a global health threat,
and a worldwide ban is urgently needed to avoid future public health
Lead is a
malleable metal previously used to improve the durability and color
luster of paint used in homes and other buildings and on steel
structures, such as bridges. Now scientifically linked to impaired
intellectual and physical growth in children, lead is also found in
some commonly imported consumer products, including candy, folk and
traditional medications, ceramic dinnerware and metallic toys and
In a two-year
study headed by Scott Clark, PhD, the UC-led research team found that
more than 75 percent of the consumer paint tested from countries
without controls—including India, Malaysia and China—had levels
exceeding U.S. regulations. Collectively, the countries represent more
than 2.5 billion people. In Singapore, which enforces the same lead restriction on new paint as the United States, lead levels were significantly lower.
manufacturers are aggressively marketing lead-based paints in countries
without lead content restrictions,” says Clark, professor of
environmental health at UC. “In some cases, companies are offering the
same or similar products, minus the lead, in a regulated country.”
“There is a clear
discrepancy in product safety outside the United States,” he adds, “and
in today’s global economy, it would be irresponsible for us to ignore
the public health threat for the citizens in the offending countries—as
well as the countries they do business with.”
This study, Dr.
Clark says, is believed to be the first to show that new paint in many
unregulated Asian countries greatly exceeds U.S. safety levels.
The UC-led team analyzed 80 consumer paint samples of various colors and brands from four countries—India, Malaysia, China and Singapore—to determine the amount of lead and compare them with U.S. standards.
Each paint sample
was applied in a single layer to a wood block, left to dry and then
removed and analyzed in UC laboratories for lead content.
About 50 percent
of the paint sold in China, India and Malaysia—none of which appear to
have regulations on lead—had lead levels 30 times higher than U.S.
regulations. In contrast in Singapore, which has well-enforced regulations, only 10 percent of paint samples were above U.S. regulations, the highest being six times the U.S. limit.
says he is concerned about children who are currently exposed to lead
in their houses and neighborhoods—and for those who will live in such
places in the future.
“Lead-based paints have already poisoned millions of children in the United States
and will likely cause similar damage in the future as paint use
increases in Asian countries and elsewhere,” he says. “Our findings
provide stark evidence of the urgent need for an effective worldwide
ban on the use of lead-based paint.”
particularly susceptible to lead poisoning for a number of reasons,
including their natural hand-to-mouth behaviors. Workers responsible
for removing lead-based paint are also at high risk for lead poisoning.
In 1978, the United States
restricted lead content in paint after determining that
people—especially young children—were being poisoned by environmental
exposures to the element. Many Third World countries, says Clark, did
not follow suit, and continue to manufacture and sell lead-based paints
that would be prohibited in the United States and in some other countries.
“We’ve known for
years that there are good substitutes for lead in paint,” he continues,
“so it’s absolutely incomprehensible that paint
manufacturers—particularly large companies with plentiful
resources—would knowingly distribute a product that can be dangerous to
lead-contaminated items intended for use by children, painted
playground equipment, for example, are manufactured in countries with
limited to zero government regulation on lead in consumer products,”
Although American brand paints were not available for purchase in this study, several U.S. multinational paint companies are among the top in Asia and some Asian paint companies have arrangements with U.S. companies.
companies need to take a stand and encourage their international
collaborators to demand lower lead contents in consumer
products—including paint,” he adds. “It’s not only the ethical thing to
do, it’s the fiscally responsible choice to prevent billions of dollars
in future health costs and property clean-up costs.”
This research was
funded by the UC’s environmental health department and division of
occupational health and hygiene, with partial support from NITON
Corporation for travel in China.
Collaborators in this study include Rebecca Clark and Sandy Roda of UC, Krishna Rampal, MD, of the University Kebangsaan Malaysia, Venkatesh Thuppil, PhD, of the National Referral Center for Lead Poisoning Prevention in India, and Chin Chen of the Occupational Safety and Health Center at Singapore Polytechnic.