KATHMANDU: Painted in shades of different colours, your house definitely looks beautiful. But while you are giving a complete new look to your house with these paints, you might be inviting dangers into your home as well as harming your health and environment. The paints might contain lead that is hazardous to human health and environment.
No paint is manufactured using lead. But lead is “added” for some other purpose. “Lead is added to paints to speed drying, increase durability, retain a fresh appearance, and resist moisture that causes corrosion and it also acts as an anti-fungal agent,” said Ram Charitra Sah, Executive Director of Centre for Public Health and Environmental Development (CEPHED).
And the main source of these lead are “decorative paints used in a wide variety of products including ceramics, pipes, gasoline, batteries, cosmetics, building construction et cetera” and when there is “wearing of the paints of these products in certain stage, it pollutes the
As lead is a heavy metal, it doesn’t disappear and remains as a residue in soil causing contamination of soil. “And when we consume rice and vegetables grown in the same soil, we consume lead with it,” Sah argued.
But why should one worry about lead? The United States Environmental Protection Agency has referred to lead as a “highly toxic metal”. Also the World Health Organisation has recognised it as “prime toxic”.
It means lead is “a poisonous metal that can damage nervous connections (especially in young children) and cause blood and brain disorders. Lead poisoning results from ingestion of food or water contaminated with lead”.
Paints’ status in Nepal
A number of national, international and multinational brands of paint are available in Nepal and they are not lead-free. As per a 2010 study conducted by CEPHED about lead in paints from the Nepali market, in general all brands and all types (distemper, emulsion, enamel, varnish and touch wood) of paints available in Nepal contain lead.
Of the 24 samples taken, the average lead content was found to be 6574.71 ppm — 73 times higher than the US or the Chinese standards of 90 ppm for lead in paints.
The second batch of the same study had also revealed that some multinational paint companies had “adopted double standard products in the region. The same companies’ products in India were found to have less lead concentration as compared to the high lead concentration in Nepal”.
Though not all paint companies are aware of the need to shift towards lead-free technology, a few of them have managed to do so.
Sailendra Kumar Sitaula, Regional Manager, Sales and Marketing at Pashupati Paints P Ltd revealed, “Our water-based products have become lead-free from the last year and we are in the process of making other products lead-free too.”
Even some multinational companies blamed to have manufactured double-standard products seem to have made greater improvements. As per the study of CEPHED, Asian Paints, which had quite a low lead concentration in Indian samples (90ppm and 7.15ppm) had an average of 21483.3ppm — 238 times higher concentration than the US standard in Nepal.
However, a highly placed source from Asian Paints on condition of anonymity informed that from 2010 April onwards, all their products have gone to a platform to use raw materials without lead. Claiming that the samples taken for the research were probably picked up before April 2010, the source revealed their products are even below the US standard of 90 ppm — less than 0.01 ppm. And Asian Paints has also begun to give lead-free logo on their packs.
Even Berger Paints, as per the third batch of the Study of CEPHED, has reduced to 165 ppm of lead concentration in the paints. “It was from 2068 Shrawan, that we totally converted to lead-free,” informed Saibal Ghosh, Country Manager of Berger Jenson and Nicholson (Nepal) Pvt Ltd.
They had “replaced all such dryers and pigments containing lead” after the realisation that they should go lead-free.
Challenges with hopes
Countries in Europe had banned the use of lead in household paints, as early as 1935 and the US did so in 1971, as per Sah.
But in the context of Nepal, “there is no such standard regarding the amount of lead in paints,” as per Ram Adhar Sah, Director General at Nepal Bureau of Standards and Meteorology (NBSM).
And lack of standards is one reason that paint companies are making use of lead in Nepal, as per Ram Charitra who thinks “the improvements need to be continued by multinational companies and it is even more important for the national paint manufacturing companies to make a positive shift from lead-based paints to no added lead paints”.
But one of the obstacles in doing so is “lack of vendors who can provide organic raw materials as an alternative to lead,” according to Sitaula. And even these multinational companies who have shifted their technology from lead-based to lead-free agree that “general cost increases with the shift”. This is because “the raw material required for lead-free dryer can be 162 per cent more than lead-based dryer” as informed by the Asian Paints source.
To this Ghosh added, “It is not an easy step to go lead-free.” He, however, regards that the step “must be taken by the
And the good news is that NBSM is in the process of defining the standards of lead in paint. “We have realised that now it is a must to make such standard and NBSM has manpower and equipment to test the lead-content in paints,” Ram
The new standard will be ready within the next one or two months.