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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.
 
But, 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 given.
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.
 
Acting furthermore………
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.
 
Moreover …..
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 mercury.
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

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