The two most worrying characteristics of paint are the lead content and the Volatile Organic Chemicals present in them

This column’s vision has been to inspire readers to adopt more planet-friendly practices at home. This thought goes hand-in-hand with the idea to educate and make you more aware of what goes on inside your home.

Summer is when many homes go in for a fresh coat of paint. This is why we will be speaking about paint this week. A conventional coat of paint has anything but fresh effects on your family’s health and the environment. In fact, evidence suggests that paint industry workers often suffer from a pool of health consequences as a result of exposure to paint, called the Chronic Solvent-induced Encephalopathy(CSE). This characteristically affects memory patterns, reducing both attention and short-term memory. Other common symptoms include involuntary tremors, fatigue, decreased strength, and a host of neurological symptoms including impaired colour vision, insomnia, and disorientation.

These problems exist everywhere, but are especially acute in India. BIS has issued a voluntary standard to limit the lead content of decorative paints. The earlier standard was 1,000 ppm, which was revised to 90 ppm in early 2014.

The two most worrying characteristics of paint are the lead content and Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOC) present in them. Lead is added to help speed up the drying process and increase durability and moisture resistance. It is sweet to taste, and especially hazardous to children. Lead paint is used not just on walls, but also in children’s toys and furniture and can stunt growth, damage the nervous system and kidneys.

Lead exposure, unlike VOC exposure, starts after the painting job is complete. It enters your home atmosphere with friction (doors and windows), humidity, exposure to sunlight and impact.

Lead dust is also produced when you prepare surfaces for painting by sandpapering or scraping, releasing large amounts of fine contaminated dust. If the dust in your home or the soil around it is contaminated with lead, chances are that your children, especially those between ages one to six years are ingesting it. The WHO estimates that a child can ingest up to 100 mg of dust and soil every day.

Apart from this, children’s furniture and toys are of special concern, as they may bite or chew on them or directly eat small paint chips.

The March 2014 report released by the Asian Lead Elimination Project studied 250 different paints in India across 147 brands. The recommended achievable level of lead in paints is 90 parts per million which is the standard for paints in USA and Canada. The report above found that paints sold in India have the highest concentration of lead across all seven Asian countries surveyed, with an average lead concentration of 22,800 parts per million.

Lead can enter paint in many ways, when it is added deliberately as pigments to create colours, and when added to oil paints as driers.

This column will continue with an exploration of the volatile organic chemicals (VOC) in paints.

Three things to look at when choosing paints:

White paints have a lower concentration of lead compared to coloured paints as titanium dioxide which is cheaper than lead is used to give whites their colour.

Lead is rarely found in water-based paints, and that too only by contamination and not by design.

The study also found that most major brands in India followed the global ppm standard for lead. However, in India, the big paint brands occupy only 60 per cent of the market, which leaves the rest open to the use of lead.