by IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub ,

The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint (Lead Paint Alliance) held a webinar for policymakers on eliminating lead in paint through regulatory action. The Lead Paint Alliance is a voluntary partnership formed by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent exposure to lead by promoting the phase-out of paints containing lead.

The Alliance is a voluntary global public/private partnership, modeled on the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles. Its goal is to see lead paint laws established in every country; only 40% of countries currently have such laws. The Alliance promotes government efforts to develop a legal limit on lead in paint using UNEP's Model Law and Guidance for Regulating Lead Paint, which governments requested, and industry and NGOs supported. The Model Law provides for a 90 ppm lead limit in paint, and is adaptable to each country's regulatory framework.

The 5 October 2020 webinar focused on information for government policymakers considering the development of a lead paint law, or in the process of developing one, and for stakeholders engaged in that process. 

Elena Jardan, WHO, stressed that: lead is harmful at all exposure levels; no therapy can reverse its effects on brain development and the cardiovascular system; and 90 ppm is the lowest maximum level of lead content currently required by any country. She said this limit is technically feasible given that non-lead-based pigments, dryers, and anti-corrosives are widely available for oil-based paints, and are used by many manufacturers to produce high-quality paints. She said the 90 ppm limit promotes trade since it is becoming an accepted international standard, and is already used in several countries including Canada, China, Kenya, Nepal, the Philippines, Tanzania, and the US. She added that lead content can potentially be much lower than 90 ppm by sourcing uncontaminated raw materials ingredients.

On the status of lead paint laws globally, Desiree Raquel Narvaez, UNEP, reported that:

  • Since September 2018, five countries (Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Israel and Pakistan) have passed/strengthened lead paint legislation;
  • 12 more countries are in the final stages of drafting lead paint laws;
  • Two paint producer countries (Jordan and Ecuador) have finished the reformulation process and can now produce lead-free paint; and
  • Many companies are engaged in the reformulation process. 

Narvaez also highlighted the SAICM Global Environment Facility (GEF) project's lead in paint component, which she said is currently assisting 61 countries.

Outlining the benefits of lead paint laws, Amanda Rawls, American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA-ROLI), said they incentivize a range of actions, including: manufacturers to reformulate paints; ingredient suppliers to produce more and better non-lead ingredients; and importers to purchase and sell paints that comply with the the law. She said national laws create a fair market for all paint manufacturers, importers and exporters, and harmonized laws reduce trade barriers. She said the steps towards adopting a lead paint law include determining: lead concentration limits and to which paint products the law will apply; when the limit becomes mandatory; how manufacturers and importers can demonstrate compliance; which government agency will be responsible for enforcement; and penalties for non-compliance.

Jardan noted two ways to test compliance: collection of samples sent to a laboratory for analysis; and portable analysis using high-definition x-ray fluorescence. She said methods differ in complexity, limit of detection and cost, and that increasing demand for laboratory testing creates a market. 

Michael Cofield, US Department of Commerce, suggested that governments work with the private sector to determine phased-in effective dates for the 90 ppm limit. This enables industry to change practices to comply with the limit, and to determine how it will obtain testing. It also enables government to encourage in-country laboratories to acquire the necessary equipment, expertise, and accreditation to perform testing. 

Providing the perspective of the paint and coatings industry, Steven Sides, World Coatings Council (WCC), said government restrictions on lead can gain industry support when they: integrate technical reformulation guidance; address the problem of available laboratory capacity and testing; give industry laboratories a role in compliance verification; embrace a harmonized approach; and ensure national producers have access to international markets. He said the Lead Paint Alliance will advance when stakeholders acknowledge that different legal instruments can be used to eliminate lead from paint, that the existence of different residual limits does not compromise the effectiveness of lead use restrictions, and that different test methods yield similar effectiveness. 

To showcase best practices in reformulation to achieve the 90 ppm lead in paint, he said the SAICM GEF Project is working with industry in targeted countries. He reported that 30 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were selected in China, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Jordan, Nigeria, and Peru for industrial pilot tests on paint reformulation, using draft technical guidelines developed by Siberia's National Cleaner Production Centre. Workshops took place in China, Jordan, and Peru to engage respective governments and the paint industry. [Webinar information] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on WHO's updated guide on measuring lead in paint]