African nations to phase out lead in paint by 2020

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Copyright: Sven Torfinn / Panos

Speed read

  • Lead is associated with low intelligence in children and other health issues
  • Some African nations have agreed to phase out use of lead in paint
  • Ethiopia is already working on a regulation to restrict use of lead in paint

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[ADDIS ABABA] African countries have agreed to cooperate in setting limits for use of lead in paints with a view to phasing it out by 2020.
This is because of its dangers to human beings, especially to children, and the environment.
In a workshop jointly organised by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network early this month in Ethiopia (2-4 December), speakers observed that paints containing lead additives pose major risks to human health,  and that manufacturers need to stop their use.

“Lead is an environmental toxicant and needs to be eliminated from paints as has been done with motor vehicle fuel.”

Eisaku Toda, UNEP

“Lead is an environmental toxicant and needs to be eliminated from paints as has been done with motor vehicle fuel,” said Eisaku Toda, a senior programme officer of UNEP, adding that governments in African countries should introduce standards and restrictions on its use.
He said that the WHO lists lead among the top ten environmental health hazards globally, and African countries should take initiatives such as introducing regulatory frameworks to control its use with a view to eventually eliminating it from paints.
“Most countries are using paints with lead that far exceeds 90 parts per million [ppm], which is highly dangerous to human health,” he said.
Angela Bandemehr, international program manager of the US Environmental Protection Agency and chair of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, a WHO/UNEP advisory group, said that scientists have found that lead is associated with problems such as low intelligence and delayed growth of children, kidney failure and hypertension.
“The public needs to know that lead is a problem but governments have a duty to set standards, and industries should promote self-driven certification programmes ensuring that they do not go beyond the 90 ppm used by some countries and the US,” she told SciDev.Net.
She added: “Use of lead in paints has caused serious consequences for the developed world, including making people violent, according to studies, and Africa has the opportunity not to go the same path.”
According to Bandemehr, many people get exposed to lead during construction demolitions, smelting and in mines without knowing the danger to their health.
“Lead in paint is a major health problem and it takes very little to contaminate a child. It can affect foetuses in pregnant women,” she added.

Mehari Wondimagegn, a director in Ethiopia’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said his office is developing a draft regulation for consideration by the Ethiopian Council of Ministers to establish 90 parts per million standard for decorative paints in the country.
The move, he explained, is based on recommendations from the Ethiopian Standards Agency in consultation with the industry on the matter.
Participants at the workshop were from Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.