Although it is discretionary in almost all African countries for paint makers to remove lead from paint, some manufacturers have taken the lead in ensuring the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) target of a world free of lead paint and chrome by 2020 is achieved.
“We are pleased to be years ahead of the global deadline of producing lead-free paints,” said Kamlesh Shah, managing director of Kenya-based Basco Paints Ltd, the leading paint maker and distributor in Eastern Africa.
Basco Paints, whose Basco and Duracoat brands are distributed in Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan, said it put an end to production of decorative paints with lead and chrome in 2013.
“All Duracoat decorative paints manufactured from August 2013 are lead/chrome-free and all raw materials containing these contents have been replaced,” said Shah.
Basco Paint’s Duracoat and Basco brands come in 7,000 shades with Shah saying “it is the largest offering in the region.”
“The move to unleaded paint is possible and we are proof of that. I encourage other players in the industry to follow suit because it is possible for paint manufacturers to find alternative raw materials to do the same job.”
Some of South Africa’s paint manufacturers, too, are determined to achieve lead-free products as part of their social responsibility and response to global pressure to eliminate the toxic substance, which according to WHO contributes to an estimated 600,000 new cases of intellectual disabilities because of childhood exposure.
South African Paint Manufacturing Association (Sapma) is seeking tougher sentences on paint makers unwilling to reduce the level of lead in their paint brands and called for enforceable legislation to ensure the lead levels in all paint brands is reduced from 600 ppm (parts per million) to 90 ppm in line with the Global Alliance for the Elimination of Lead in Paint (GAELIP).
“This can only happen if the government stopped merely threatening to take action against the culprits but actually makes an example of them and prosecute them,” said Deryck Spence, Sapma’s executive director.
Speaking in November during a workshop organized by the Department of Labour, Spence was quoted by local media saying: “Sapma has done everything in its power to warn lead-using producers – whether Sapma members or not – but we now require the strong arm of the government to name and shame manufacturers who still ignore anti-lead legislation.”
“Sapma members would welcome such prosecutions because it would be in accordance with our ethical views and strategies since the major brands, having already eliminated lead in the decorative market, are diligently working towards the total elimination of lead in the manufacture of paint, including industrial products like road-marking paints.”
He said Sapma members have committed “to produce only lead-free paint and, equally importantly, those retail members who join Sapma will not stock paint from a supplier unable to provide a declaration that his or her product is lead-free.”
“There are about 200 small- to medium-sized manufacturers of paint and coatings producing uncontrolled products. Our drive to recruit as many retailers as possible is also still a challenge. Without the retail industry’s cooperation, paints containing lead can still find its way to store shelves – and all too often at ridiculously low prices.”
He advocated for more water-based paints with more white oil-based enamels to reduce the lead levels in the brands supplied to the market.
“It should be remembered that 80 percent of decorative paint is water-based and contains no lead, which is traditionally used to obtain the rich colors in oil-based enamels. As the majority of enamel sold is white, this reduces the lead factor even further since ‘colored’ enamels represent only about four percent of decorative sales” he explained.
Chemspec, one of Africa’s largest coatings companies with a five percent market share of South Africa’s coatings market, is one of the manufacturers that have pledged to eliminate lead/chrome from all their paint brands distributed across the continent and beyond.
“We continue to remove lead and hazardous materials from our paint,” the company said in one of its media releases adding that the company has been forced to shift focus to waterborne wood finishing products because “the wood finish industry is slowly becoming more environmentally aware.”
Chemspec, whose decorative brands include Deco, Chemspel, Woodsure and Panache, has operations in Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Mauritius markets where it intends to set the pace in supplying paint with low lead levels. The international market accounted for the coating company’s 39 percent total sales in 2013.
There have been concerns, however, in the West Africa coatings market over the supply of highly toxic paint brands by local and foreign companies with at least one international lobby calling for the prosecution of a leading U.S.-based supplier.
Nigeria, where an estimated 700 children under the age five died from lead poisoning in 2010, is yet to enact legislation to curb high levels of the chemical. It is estimated that another 3,000 children are in need of long-term treatment from the lead poisoning in the country’s Zamfra state.
A group of civil society organizations recently called for “immediate enactment of mandatory national regulations for limiting lead concentrations in paints.”
“There should be a complete ban and eradication of continued sale of leaded paints and have in place regulatory mechanism towards adulterated, unregistered, unlabeled, repackaged and uncertified paint products,” they said in a petition to the Federal Government.
“We believe that national re-branding should be synonymous with product re-branding. Government should set example by prohibiting procurement (purchasing) of paint products with lead.”
Paint Manufacturers Association has also been pushing its members to ensure their operations are responsive to environmental needs and that they “leave behind a better environment for coming generations.”
PMA chief executive officer Sulaimon Tella said in a previous interview with local media the lobby is out to ensure “the industry takes seriously the need to contribute towards a greener environment through the raw materials we use.”
An environmental group Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev) said public awareness by both government agencies and civil society is critical in the fight to eliminate lead paint from the Nigerian market.
“There is a need for information campaigns to inform the public about the hazards of lead exposure, especially in children; the presence of lead in decorative paints for sale and use in the national market; lead paint as a significant source of childhood lead exposure; and availability of technically superior and safer alternatives,” said Leslie Adogame, SRADev’s executive director.
“Paint manufacturers in Nigeria are encouraged to eliminate lead compounds from their paint formulations, especially of those paints likely to contribute to lead exposure in children and others.”
He urged the manufacturers to voluntarily take part in programmes that “provide third party paint certification that no lead has been added to their paints, and to label products in ways that help consumers to identify paints that do not contain lead.”
In neighboring Cameroon, the country’s largest paint maker and supplier Seignerurie, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based PPG, was early last year in the news for selling highly toxic house paint to consumers despite alerts of the high levels of lead it contained and petitions to withdraw the product from the market.
The accusation was made in March by Occupational Knowledge International (OK International) which describes itself as a global organization working to build capacity in developing countries to identify, monitor, and mitigate environmental and occupational exposures to hazardous materials in order to protect public health and the environment.
“There is an immediate need for regulations to restrict the lead content of paint in Cameroon to protect public health,” said Perry Gottesfeld, executive OK International.
Gottesfeld, who is also a co-author of the research into the Cameroon issue said,“The levels of lead are extraordinarily high and these products have been banned in the U.S. for more than 30 years.”
The findings of the research were published in the May 2013 issue of the “Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene” and “revealed lead concentrations are as high as 50 percent by weight in household paint being sold by Cameroon’s largest paint company, Seignerurie. This concentration is more than 5,000 times the allowable limit in the U.S.”
“This is the ultimate case of a company operating with double standards as they sell hazardous products in developing countries that have been banned in the US since the 1970s,” said Gottesfeld.
However, in an interview with a UK publication, PPG said it has adopted globally accepted standards for all its products including the contentious paints in circulation in the Cameroonian market.
“PPG globally adopted a position that limits the lead content for all architectural and decorative coatings marketed to consumers to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standard of 90ppm in 2008,” said Jeermy Neuhart, PGG’s spokesperson.
“In 2011, PPG undertook an internal review regarding lead in consumer paint sold in Cameroon, which does not have a legal limit for lead in paints and coatings. PPG has indicated its support of a Cameroon governmental standard for lead in consumer paints and will comply with such a regulation if enacted.”
A sample study of African countries found high levels of average lead concentrations with Kenya having 14,900 ppm, Cameroon, 23,100 ppm; Egypt, 26,200; Nigeria (two studies), 37,000 and 15,750 ppm; Senegal 5,870 ppm; South Africa, 19,860; and Tanzania 14,500 ppm.
According to the WHO, “Exposure to lead paint can be entirely stopped through a range of measures to restrict the production and use of lead paint.”