30 September 2019: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has published an update on the status of lead in paint laws across the globe and progress towards eliminating lead in paint. The ‘2019 Update on the Global Status of Legal Limits on Lead in Paint’ notes that, as of 30 September 2019, 73 countries, or 38% of all countries, have legally binding controls to limit the production, import and sale of lead paints, but acknowledges that many countries still do not prohibit the use of lead paint in homes and schools, leading to an increased risk of exposure to lead, particularly in children.

The Update explains that eliminating lead exposure at its source is the most effective way to protect people from the harmful effects of lead and that laws, regulations or enforceable standards are required to protect human health.

The report emphasizes that action towards eliminating lead in paint consists of: conducting awareness raising and consumer education on the hazards of lead in paint and promoting its elimination through lead in paint laws; and establishing and implementing protective legal limits on lead in paint using the Model Law and Guidance for Regulating Lead Paint, which recommends a 90 parts per million (ppm) total lead concentration limit.

The Update presents highlights for 2019, including: new laws to address lead in paint in Bangladesh and Israel; a UNEP fact sheet on ‘Suggested Steps for Establishing a Lead Paint Law’ to help countries establish lead paint laws; and actions that countries are taking to eliminate lead in paint, including through regional workshops aimed at promoting regulatory action convened under the under the Strategic Approach for International Chemicals Management (SAICM) Global Environmental Facility (GEF)-supported project on lead in paint. Workshops have been conducted for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Africa, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and Central Asia, and Asia-Pacific. The 2019-2021 SAICM-GEF Project aims to help governments establish lead in paint laws in at least 40 countries and provide guidance to industry to facilitate the transition to producing non-lead paints.

The Update describes two approaches used in lead in paint laws, both of which have been effective, namely:

  • establishing a single regulatory limit on the total concentration of lead in paint from all sources (currently used in 35 countries), which range from 90 ppm to 1,000 ppm or higher; or
  • establishing chemical-specific regulatory limits based on the management of risks of individual lead compounds used as additives in paint, which is currently used in EU regulation.

The Update also describes progress made by regions, noting that most industrialized countries adopted laws or regulations to control the lead content of residential and decorative paints in the 1970s and 1980s, while in other parts of the world, lead paint use remains a significant source of human exposure. Since 2009, according to the Update, more than 100 studies have shown that lead paints are still sold in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and most of the paints tested for lead exceeded the legal limit set by many countries.

Regional progress updates highlighted in the report include:

  • In the African region, six countries have lead paint laws. Rwanda is drafting regulation to implement an East African Community (EAC) regional standard of 90 ppm. Zambia is finalizing a voluntary standard limiting lead content to 90 ppm, which will later be incorporated into law. South Africa is revising an existing law to reduce the lead limit to 90 ppm. Côte d’Ivoire is drafting a law with a mandatory 90 ppm limit. Twenty-one countries have conducted paint testing, and the annual economic cost of childhood lead exposure in the African region is estimated to be USD 134.7 billion, or 4.03% of regional gross domestic product (GDP).
  • In the Asia-Pacific region, nine countries have lead paint laws, 14 countries have conducted paint testing, and the annual economic cost of childhood lead exposure in Asia is USD 699.9 billion, or 1.88% of regional GDP.
  • Three West Asian countries have lead paint laws. Jordan has revised an existing law to reduce lead limits to 90 ppm. Lebanon is drafting a law, and paint testing was conducted in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
  • In Europe, 42 countries have lead paint laws. Ukraine, Moldova, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are working on lead paint legislation, while Israel has a new technical standard for lead in paint. Paint testing has been conducted in ten countries.
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), 11 countries have lead paint laws. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are working on updating existing laws and standards to reduce the 600 ppm limit to 90 ppm. Paint testing was conducted in nine countries, and the annual economic cost of childhood lead exposure in LAC is USD 142.3 billion, or 2.04% of regional GDP.
  • In North America, both the US and Canada have lead paint laws.

The annual Update supports the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, which seeks to ensure that all countries have lead paint laws in place by 2020. UNEP and the World Health Organization (WHO) serve as the joint Secretariat for the Alliance. [Publication: 2019 Update on the Global Status of Legal Limits on Lead in Paint] [Publication Landing Page] [SDG Knowledge Hub Guest Article on INECE Compliance Conversations to Discuss Effectiveness of Lead Paint Laws]