Environmental and occupational health experts at the University of Cincinnati, UC, have found that India, China and Malaysia still produce and sell consumer paints with dangerously high lead levels, even on products intended for use by children such as painted playground equipment. Researchers from four countries say that this lead-based paint production poses a global health threat, and a worldwide ban is urgently needed to avoid future public health problems.
Linked to impaired intellectual and physical growth in children, lead is a metal used to improve the durability and color luster of paint used in homes and other buildings and on steel structures, such as bridges.
Lead is also found in some commonly imported consumer products, including candy, folk and traditional medications, ceramic dinnerware, and metallic toys and trinkets.
In 1978, the United States restricted lead content in paint after determining that people, especially young children, were being poisoned by environmental exposures to the metal.
Many Third World countries, says Scott Clark, PhD, did not follow suit, and continue to manufacture and sell lead-based paints.
Clark headed a two year study involving researchers from four countries. The scientists found that more than 75 percent of the consumer paint tested from countries without controls on lead paint had levels exceeding U.S. regulations. By contrast, in Singapore, which enforces the same lead restriction on new paint as the United States, lead levels were significantly lower.
"Paint manufacturers are aggressively marketing lead-based paints in countries without lead content restrictions," says Clark, professor of environmental health at UC. "In some cases, companies are offering the same or similar products, minus the lead, in a regulated country."
"There is a clear discrepancy in product safety outside the United States," he adds, "and in today's global economy, it would be irresponsible for us to ignore the public health threat for the citizens in the offending countries, as well as the countries they do business with."