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Dangerous levels of toxic lead in Indian paints: Study

August 18, 2009 18:55 IST

A study carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment has revealed the alarming fact that most of the popular brands of paints available in India contain high quantities of lead, a toxin especially dangerous for children.

The CSE's Pollution Monitoring Laboratory tested these brands for their lead content over 2008 and 2009. It found that 72 per cent of the samples had lead much higher than the voluntary limit specified by the Bureau of Indian Standards, according to a press release by the CSE.

"Every moment, we are building a stock of unwanted, toxic chemicals in our bodies. Lead from our house paints is one of them. It's deadly because it can lower children's IQ," says Sunita Narain, director, CSE.

The press release states that in 2008, CSE's laboratory had procured 25 samples of popular enamel paints randomly and analysed them for lead content. The brands tested were Apcolite (Asian Paints), Nerolac (Kansai Nerolac Paints), Luxol (Berger Paints India), Superlac (Shalimar Paints) and Dulux (ICI India).

"Lead was found in 23 of the 25 samples tested. Seventy two per cent of the samples -- 18 samples -- contained lead much higher than the 1,000 ppm limit specified by the BIS," states the press release.

Lead is often referred to as the 'silent epidemic', and it is easy to get exposed to it.  One can pick it up by touching paint on walls and other surfaces, inhaling exhaust fumes from a vehicle, or while walking on leaded paint chips, says the CSE study. The human body cannot process and excrete lead and sustained and large exposure can cause serious damage.

Lead can damage the developing central nervous systems and brains of a child, leading to poor performance and short attention spans. Adults exposed to lead poisoning may find it difficult to concentrate or remember things, and feel pain in muscles and joints, says the CSE.

The United States Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry has declared lead level in blood exceeding 10 microgramme per decilitre as unsafe -- studies indicate that over 60 per cent of children in India may have more than this level in their blood. And paints are a key source.

Though governments across the world have set mandatory standards for the level of lead in paints -- the most common source of exposure to lead -- the regulatory norms in India remain lax.

In India, paints can be made, sold and used without any regulatory controls. The BIS specifications for the paints sector are voluntary, setting the limit at 1,000 ppm. The US, Canada and Singapore have limited the lead content in their paints to 600 ppm.

 "Our households are at risk because we do not know what chemicals are in the products that we use. For instance, detergents and cleaners have chemicals which could be toxic and banned in different countries. We urgently need environmental product standards in the country before our health is even more at risk because of chemicals in our households," says Chandra Bhushan, associate director, CSE.