Holiday Food Warning: Lead-Painted Brushes Not Suitable for Rubbing Basting Sauce on BBQ and Grilled Meat

 Paint brush used for rubbing basting sauce on barbecue meat.
Paint brushes with high lead content above 90 ppm.
Paint brushes with low lead content below 90 ppm.

As Filipinos get ready for the traditional
“noche Buena” and “media noche” meals, a toxics watchdog group advised the
public not to use paint brushes to apply basting sauce on all time favorite barbecue
and grilled meat.

The EcoWaste Coalition, an active advocate for lead poisoning prevention,
revealed that the handles of some paint brushes contain high levels of lead way
above the threshold limit of 90 (parts per million) ppm for lead in paint.
A chemical screening of 20 paint brushes procured by the group on December 22
and 23 for P10 to P84 each from hardware and general merchandise stores in
Makati, Mandaluyong, Manila, Pasay and Quezon Cities showed exceedingly high lead
The group used a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device to identify and
quantify toxic metals such as lead on the mostly yellow paint coatings of the
brush handles. 
Out of 20 samples, 17 had lead content ranging from 329  to 18,300 ppm.  Significant amounts of arsenic, cadmium, chromium
and mercury were also found in most of these 17 samples.
The top 10 paint brushes with the highest  lead content are Lotus with 18,300 ppm, Dragon
Fly  with14,900 ppm, an unbranded brush
with 10,100 ppm, Hippo with 10,000 ppm, Camel with 9,643 ppm, 2B with 9,241
ppm, Butterfly with 8,941 ppm, Croco with  8,152 ppm, Yuko with 6,296 and MMT with 5,991
“With frequent use, it is very likely that the lead paint on the brush handle
will deteriorate and contaminate the basting sauce rubbed on the meat that is
eventually eaten by humans,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste
Coalition’s Project Protect.
“While further study is needed to determine potential lead contamination, we
advise food preparers to err on the side of caution and discontinue using paint
brushes in food preparations,” he said. 
Instead of paint brushes, Dizon suggested food grade basting or pastry brushes, or, if these are not available, improvised mops made from banana,
lemon grass or pandan leaves will serve the purpose.

Based on the group’s ocular investigation, street vendors often
use paint brushes to  mop sauce on barbecue or grilled meat, or to spread
margarine on other holiday favorites such as “bibingka” (rice cake) and “puto
bumbong” (steamed sticky rice).  

The World
Health Organization (WHO) publication “Exposure to Lead: A Major Public Health
Concern” states that  lead is “a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple
body systems, including the neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal,
cardiovascular, and renal systems.”

“The potential
for adverse effects of lead exposure is greater for children than for adults,
because in children 1) the intake of lead per
unit body weight is higher, 2) more dust may be ingested, 3) lead absorption in
the gastrointestinal tract is higher, 4) the blood–brain barrier is not yet
fully developed and 5) neurological effects occur at
lower levels than in adults,” it said.

“Exposure of
pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature
birth and low birth weight, as well as minor malformations,” it pointed out.

Lead enters the human body primarily via ingestion and inhalation.  It has no known purpose in the body.