Dangers of lead in paint highlighted

20th September 2013 By: Carina Borralho

The South African Paint Manufacturing Association (Sapma) is focusing on eliminating hazardous lead content in paint.

Sapma executive director Deryck Spence says lead is commonly used in paint production as a facilitator of quick-drying paint to prevent rust in industrial applications and as a colour pigment to create rich colours and a gloss finish.

The association notes that health and safety is a tremendously important aspect of the industry; however, some smaller producers are reluctant to put health and safety matters above economics and are continuing to use dangerously high levels of lead in paint.

The Dangers

Sapma notes that Medical Research Council environment and health research unit director Professor Angela Matthee has assisted Sapma in its anti-lead campaign for several years and has contributed to research involving the effects of lead on humans, specifically children.

The results of some of the tests conducted by Matthee showed that children who were exposed to high levels of lead suffered from learning disabilities. Another study noted a correlation between high blood-lead levels and violent behaviour.

“This study is based on American research conducted in New York, US, which was one of the most violent places in the world in the late 1980s and 1990s. “At this time, lead in petrol was banned and, 25 years later, crime and violent crime dropped significantly,” notes Spence.

The association notes that 80% of the paint sold in South Africa is water-based and usually comprises pastel colours, which will not contain high levels of lead. “However, a small percentage of paint is sold with hazardous levels of lead and this is still a concern for us,” he says, adding that

Matthee encouraged the industry to lobby for the Harzardous Substances Act to include a section on paint containing high levels of lead, which Spence helped formalise. The 2009 Hazardous Substances Act, which states that, by definition, nothing is completely lead free, classifies paint as being lead free if it contains less than 600 parts per million (ppm) of lead. “In Gauteng, we live in a gold mining area where lead is present but it is harmful only in certain quantities,” says Spence.

The Hazardous Substances Act states that any paint sold to the retail market has to contain less than 600 ppm of lead, but industrial paint can contain more parts per million of lead, since there is little risk of exposure to children.

“Playground equipment, however, is manufactured in the industrial sector, which uses industrial paint with a high lead content. These are some of the issues that need to be reviewed,” says Spence.

Sapma notes that toy manufacturers paint toys in bright colours, since they are more appealing to and stimulating for children, but these bright-colour paints contain lead.

“Matthee based her case on previously disadvantaged areas where, for example, kitchens, walls and school classrooms were primarily painted with bright enamel paints. “When these paints start to wear, a powder is produced, which is inhaled by community members, causing illness and even death,” says Spence.

Meanwhile, the Department of Labour (DoL) has asked Sapma to sign a health and safety cooperation agreement to stop the use of hazardous substances, which the association says it will sign willingly.

“South Africa has, through the Department of Health, signed the United Nation’s Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint accord,” Spence points out.

The DoL conducted a lead test using 35 paint companies, with 13 companies producing paint that contained more than 600 ppm of lead, which indicates that some companies have not yet adopted a lead-free solution.

Sapma notes that industrial paint can contain lead levels higher than 600 ppm, but all paint containing lead needs to be marked clearly, specifically for retail purposes.

Other Hazardous Substances

Sapma highlights that other hazardous substances used in painting operations are also causing concern, which requires further investigation by the association.

“Methanol, for example, is being used as a cheap alternative by painters, owing to a lack of thinners on the market, and the suppliers are not warning them properly,” says Spence.

“The American Material Safety Data Sheet states that methanol is highly poisonous, while, locally, methanol containers state that people should wear gloves and breathing apparatus when handling the alcohol,” he says, adding that methanol is potentially more dangerous than lead.

“From a health point of view, there are probably a lot more dangerous substances than we have time to investigate. “The problem is that, unless it is legislated, it becomes difficult to enforce laws against using these substances,” says Spence.

Transporting Hazardous Goods

“The law says a person may not carry hazard-ous substances around unless the person is registered as a transporter. Transporting more than 13 000 ℓ classifies a person as a supplier or a manufacturer, requiring the person to have the correct paperwork and training,” explains Spence.

The safe transport of hazardous goods is crucial, since incidents that occur on roads can potentially harm a high number of civilians,” says Sapma national training manager Toni Stella, adding that receiving training to handle hazardous materials is extremely important.

Spence highlights that about 25 deaths a month at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, in Johannesburg, are attributed to alcohol poisoning by consumption. However, doctors cannot determine whether the cause of death is ethanol poison-ing (raw alcohol) or methanol – which is shocking,” he says.