90% of paint samples tested contain lead above permissible limits in India: Study

The toxic effects of lead on children’s brains are irreversible and lifelong, says NGO

October 26, 2023 11:27 pm | Updated October 27, 2023 09:50 am IST - New Delhi

Image used for representative purpose only.

Image used for representative purpose only. | Photo Credit: V RAJU

Over 90% of 51 paints used to paint houses, which are available in the Indian market, analysed by two research and advocacy groups contain lead concentrations above the Central government’s permissible limit of 90 parts per million (ppm). Also, 76.4% of these paints contained lead more than 111 times the permissible limit, according to the analysis.

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“The toxic effects of lead on children’s brains are irreversible and lifelong and children aged six years and below are the most vulnerable to lead poisoning,” said Satish Sinha, Associate Director, Toxics Link, a Delhi-based environmental research and advocacy organisation.

The study was done by Toxics Link and International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), a network of over 600 non-governmental organisations.

Also Read | Lead content limit should apply to all paints: experts

Toxics Link purchased a total of 51 cans of paints — 46 enamel (oil-based paints) decorative paints and five enamel spray paints — from stores in 10 cities across the country and also from online sellers. The paints belonged to 40 different brands, mostly from Indian micro and small-sized manufacturing industries (MSMIs). Paints from major brands which had less than 90 ppm of lead in previous studies were excluded in this study.

According to the ‘Regulation of Lead Contents in Household and Decorative Paints Rules, 2016’, which came into force in 2017, manufacture, trade, import and export of household and decorative paints containing lead or lead compounds in excess of 90 ppm is prohibited in India.

‘Market surveillance poor’

Mr. Sinha said that when Toxics Link started analysing paints in 2007, even major brands had lead above 90 ppm, but they eventually phased it out. “Even after the rules came into effect in 2017, the market surveillance is poor and that is why so many brands are still selling paints with lead exceeding permissible limits. Also, there is an incentive for the manufacturers as pigments used in making paints that contain lead are cheaper compared to pigments without lead,” he said.

Mr. Sinha said that paint coated on walls would decay over time and fall on the ground as dust and it could easily be ingested by children, making them more vulnerable to lead poisoning. “Also, during repainting and sanding of walls dust containing lead in the paint will spread in the house,” he added.

Dr. Neeraj Nischal, Additional Professor (internal medicine) at the AIIMS-Delhi, told The Hindu that if lead was above permissible limit in any source, it could affect the body in different ways.

“Depending on the level and duration of exposure, lead can affect different organ systems, including hematological cells, brain, kidney, gastrointestinal tract and liver. It gets stored in bone and can be released gradually from there,” he said.

Dr. Nischal also said that lead poisoning could have more serious complications in children and it can also be transferred from a pregnant woman to a foetus.

Since leaded paint is a continuing source of exposure in many countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO), along with the United Nations Environment Programme, has formed the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, which has the aim of encouraging all countries to have legally binding laws to control the use of lead in paint, according to the WHO.

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