Considered most chemical standards established in different countries, Sri
Lanka does have a good position. Especially with the lowest mandatory
standards established in the Asian region (by 2012) for the level of Lead
in household paints.
very recent study (2012) conducted by the Centre for Environmental Justice
(CEJ) revealed that Sri Lankan Paint market is still to be cleaned. While
many manufactures adhere to the legal standards and way below the
established lead standard in some cases, the rest still found to have
higher concentrations of lead in them.
CEJ tested household decorative paints..…..
In 2010, Centre for Environmental Justice in collaboration with
international POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) and the Indian NGO, Toxics
Link, carried out a global scientific study of “Lead in New Decorative
Paints”. Altogether 10 countries participated in this study. The findings
revealed that, among tested enamel paints in Sri Lanka, 69% exceeded the
current standard of 600 ppm, the highest content of lead was 137,325 ppm
(14%), 228 times greater than the Sri Lankan limit of 600 ppm. Other
samples also contained 133,463 ppm, 55,237 ppm etc.
CEJ goes to Supreme courts…..
Ironically, Consumer Affairs Authority did not believe that they could
limit the lead levels in paint, no its role since they are mostly
concentrating on food items. However, Sri Lanka standards Institute (SLSI)
agreed to make the new standards, but did not agree to reduce the lead
level in Floor paint and enamel paint to 90 ppm, which is the agreed level
for, lead in emulsion and toy paints. (United States and Europe have
limited the lead level to 90ppm in all paints)
SLSI standards are just voluntary thereby do not essentially make all the
paints in the market, non-leaded. CEJ brought the matter to the Supreme
Court with a petition asking to reduce the lead level in paint in order to
protect children's health. As a result, the Consumer Affairs Authority
made a gazette notification (Gazette Extra Ordinary No 1725/30 on 30th
of September 2011) establishing new mandatory standards for lead levels in
paint to take effect January 1, 2013.
CEJ back on the matter….
The most recent testing conducted under the Asian Lead paint elimination
project in collaboration with IPEN which is funded by European Union
reveled the latest profile of lead found in paints! The study included 94
paints from 57 brands purchased almost all over the country. The analysis
of these reveled that about 50% of oil-based paints still found to exceed
the regulated limit of 600 ppm. The average lead concentration was
11 600 ppm while the highest detected was 131 000 ppm. Two paint
samples exceeded 100 000 ppm, 22 samples were detected for lead
concentration above 10 000 ppm and 23 samples showed up the results
between 10 000 ppm and 600 ppm. In the meantime 35 paint samples were
detected for levels less than 90 ppm, which is a very low amount and also
the level suggested by CEJ. This also reflects the ability of paint
manufacturers to produce low leaded oil-based paints once the effort is
Discussions and meetings of CEJ with small and medium paint manufacturers
revealed that conversion is not difficult once the ingredients were
purified. For which the sources and technology is available.
CEJ conducted another study on Lead levels in dust in preschools and
homestead under the Asian Lead paint Elimination project, conducted in
association IPEN and financial support of European Union, in which it was
found hazardous lead levels in dust samples collected from some pre-school
and school class rooms in Sri Lanka.
The concentration of lead was as high as 600 micrograms per square foot
whereas, the maximum allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
is only 40 micrograms per square foot. Also, the scientific studies
performed over the last decades show that dust lead loadings as low as 10
μg/ft2 can contribute to blood lead levels harmful to the
developing brain. One or more samples from 11 out of 20 locations where
dust were collected contained lead exceeding this level. The only visible
source of lead in these locations was chipped and damaged paint.
After publishing of this report the Consumer Affairs Authority published
another gazette on the label standards with the statement “The Consumer
Affairs Authority Directs all manufacturers and traders of paints used in
the building industry that they shall print legibly the total content of
Lead in paint in mg/ kg on the packs of containers of paints...” which was
a big achievement for a study concerning health effects.
Also, to reduce the threat of Lead contamination through preschools CEJ
brought the concept of establishing “Lead safe preschools” in which all
the paints used on all applications of paint within the preschool premises
are certified to be safe from hazardous Lead.
Alternatives are available…..
Higher levels of lead in paints imply the use of lead either as a pigment,
drying agent or corrosion retardant. Yet safe alternatives are available
for affordable prices from dates back. The recent discussions with several
raw material suppliers in Sri Lanka also confirmed their ability to supply
the un-leaded ingredients upon the request of the manufacturer. Also the
manufacturers already has transferred to un-leaded paint said that these
conversion in to un-leaded pigments/ ingredients was not much effected on
the prize of the paint.
Apart from all the progress made towards, non-leaded paint in Sri Lanka,
further action is needed on paint in ceramics, printing ink and toys and
other accessories imported.
It was shocking to hear when one of our friends informed us on the heavy
metal contents detected through an XRF device in a print on a mug produced
in Sri Lanka.
1. Yellow had 3,200 ppm of lead, 1,099 of cadmium, 510 ppm of arsenic, 428
ppm of chromium and 210 ppm of antimony.
2. Black had 2,912 ppm of lead, 1,394 ppm of cadmium, 466 ppm of arsenic,
210 ppm of antimony and 9.8 ppm of mercury.
3. Dark green had 8,698 ppm of lead, 8,611 ppm of chromium, 1,341 ppm of
arsenic and 246 ppm of cadmium.
4. Light green had 136 ppm of lead, 106 ppm of chromium and 4.7 ppm of
5. White (side and bottom, the ceramic) had no detectable level of lead,
but had 5 ppm of mercury.”
This explains why we need to be concerned in selecting the plate we eat
and the mug we drink and many we deal with in our daily life. Because, the
bottom-line is “for Lead, there is no safe level of exposure or no safe
level for blood contamination”.
Author: Chalani Rubesinghe