Most of the popular brands of paints contain high quantities of lead, a toxin especially dangerous for children, says a latest study done by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). While there is no mandatory standard for lead levels in paints in the country, top companies exceed even the voluntary limit specified by the Bureau of Indian Standards, reports PTI.
Over 2008 and 2009, CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory tested these brands for their lead content and found 72% of the samples with lead much higher than the BIS standard.
In 2008, CSE’s laboratory had procured 25 samples of popular enamel paints randomly from Delhi markets and analysed them for lead content. The brands tested were Apcolite (Asian Paints), Nerolac (Kansai Nerolac Paints), Luxol (Berger Paints India), Superlac (Shalimar Paints) and Dulux (ICI India). The study covered five of the six major companies in the organised sector, which control 75% of the household paints market. Lead was found in 23 of the 25 samples tested.
Seventy-two percent of the samples — 18 samples — contained lead much higher than the 1,000 parts per million (ppm) limit specified by the BIS. The highest lead content was in the deep orange paint of the Shalimar’s Superlac brand — 185 times the BIS limit and 308 times the US paints limit of 600 ppm.
Berger brand Luxol’s golden yellow colour had a staggering 162,559 ppm lead — 163 times the BIS limit and 271 times the US paints limit. All the samples of ICI-Dulux had lead much below the specified limit. In fact, of the five paints manufacturers, only ICI did not use lead in its paint formulations. The white shades of Asian Paints and Nerolac also conformed to the standards.
Based on this study, when CSE wrote asking companies for their plans to remove lead from paints, Asian Paints and Nerolac responded saying they were in the process of change. In 2009, CSE tested to confirm what had been done – taking samples from each of the five major companies.
This study showed improvement in the sample of Asian Paints and Nerolac, but samples of Berger and Shalimar still had high and unacceptable levels of lead in paint. Clearly, therefore, while getting rid of this toxin from our common household product is possible, it is not being done on a voluntary basis, without mandatory regulations.
Says Sunita Narain, director, CSE: “Every moment, we are building a stock of unwanted, toxic chemicals in our bodies. Lead from our house paints is one of them. It’s deadly because it can lower children’s IQ.”
Doctors refer to lead as the ‘silent epidemic’. The human body cannot process and excrete lead. Sustained and large exposure can cause serious damage to developing central nervous systems and brains, leading to a child performing poorly in exams or having short attention spans. Adults exposed to lead poisoning may find it difficult to concentrate or remember things, and feel pain in muscles and joints. Even extremely low levels of lead can impair foetal development.
The US Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry has declared lead level in blood exceeding 10 micrograms per decilitre as unsafe — studies indicate that over 60% of children in India may have more than this level in their blood.
Like most chemicals, paints in India can be made, sold and used without any regulatory controls. The BIS specifications for the paints sector are voluntary, setting the limit at 1,000 ppm. The US, Canada and Singapore have limited the lead content in their paints to 600 ppm. The European Union had, as far back as 1988, banned lead in paints. Now it allows lead-based paints for restoration of art works and buildings. It stipulates harsh warning on any paint product, which has lead.
Says Chandra Bhushan, associate director, CSE: “This is when it is clear that companies have the capability and technology to phase out lead from their products. But as costs are an issue, companies complain that making lead-free paints makes the product expensive, and lowers their market share. It is therefore, even more important to have mandatory standards for all branded paint companies.”
He says that environmental regulation should not be confined to production but extended to products we use. "We urgently need environmental product standards in the country before our health is even more at risk because of chemicals in our households.” he says.
The spokesperson ofKansai Nerolac Paints was not available for comments.