Experts Press for Health Action vs Lead Exposure

Quezon City. An environmental health specialist from US and a pediatric toxicologist from the Philippines today reiterated the need for action against a real threat to children’s health: lead-added paint.

At a forum organized by the EcoWaste Coalition, Dr. Scott Clark from the University of Cincinnati and Dr. Bessie Antonio from the East Avenue Medical Center jointly emphasized the need for a concerted response to eliminate children’s exposure to lead that could result to health problems with long-term and often irreversible impacts.

Clark, who is in Manila for the partners’ meeting of the IPEN Asia Lead Elimination Project, said that exposure to lead could be dramatically reduced by a ban on the addition of this heavy metal in household decorative paints and in consumer products such as toys.

“Lead is one of the oldest known poisons. While efforts to control lead levels in paint began over 90 years ago, paints with high levels of lead are still widely available in much of the world, including the Philippines,” said Clark.

A global study on paint in 2009 found lead up to 189,100 parts per million (ppm) in 10 of 15 samples from the Philippines, while a follow-up study in 2010 detected lead up to 161,700 ppm in 24 of 26 samples from the country, way above the US limit of 90 ppm.

“Many successful paint companies are already using alternatives to lead pigments and producing high quality paint. It would be horrible and unacceptable to see a legacy of poisoned children. It’s high time for all companies to shift to non-lead substitutes for the health of the present and future generations of children,” he said.

Current data from some countries, according to Clark, suggest that lead levels in many decorative paints are less than 90 ppm and often below 45 ppm.

In addition to lead-contaminated dust from peeling paints, Dr. Bessie Antonio identified other sources of lead exposure, including backyard metal scrap recycling, lead-based tableware, lead-soldered cans and even lead-added beauty products.

“Efforts must be made to prevent and reduce children’s exposure to heavy metals, many of which are dangerous for a child’s developing brain and body even at low levels,” she said.

“There is no safe level for lead exposure, especially for developing fetuses and children. Exposure to this toxic metal can damage the brain, lower a child’s intelligence, decrease a child’s attention span and cause delays in a child’s speaking, reading and learning skills” she explained.

At the end of the forum, the participants agreed to step up the ongoing campaign led by the EcoWaste Coalition toward a strong chemical control order (CCO) that will keep the total lead content in paints as low as possible.

The Philippines, under the Clean Air Act of 1999, has successfully banned the sale and use of leaded gasoline, but has yet to phase out lead-added paints from the market.