NEW in the 2019 Global Update
NEW LAWS: Bangladesh and Israel have established new laws to address lead in paint. See the lead paint law status interactive map below for the latest information, up the date as of June 2020.
NEW TOOL: UN Environment published the fact sheet: Suggested Steps for Establishing a Lead Paint Law, a resource for countries ready to take action to eliminate lead paint. The fact sheet outlines steps which have been helpful in countries that have adopted laws. It is currently available in English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese.
NEW MOMENTUM: An increasing number of countries are taking steps to eliminate lead paint. Many of these actions are the result of recent regional workshops on “Promoting Regulatory Action by Governments to Phase out Lead in Paint” held in the African, Central and Eastern European, Latin America and the Caribbean, and West Asia and Asia and Pacific regions under the Strategic Approach for International Chemicals Management (SAICM) Global Environmental Facility (GEF) project on lead paint.
Current global progress towards eliminating lead paint
Facts and figures
As of 30 September 2019, 73 countries had legally binding controls to limit the production, import and sale of lead paints, which is 38% of all countries.
Countries with Lead Paint Laws
As of June 2020 76 countries have lead paint laws, 85 have none and for 32 countries there is no data available. See the map below for the most up to date information on an individual country’s lead paint laws. You can explore by region (e.g. North America), and click on each country to see its specific laws. Where a country has set a lead limit, the limit is for total lead content. The year indicates the year a country passed its lead paint law.
In many countries, using lead paint in homes and schools is not prohibited, creating a significant risk of children’s exposure to lead.
The most effective means of preventing lead exposure from paints is to establish national laws, including legislation, regulations and/or legally binding standards as appropriate, that ban the use of lead additives in paints.
Countries that have not yet done so are urged to enact and enforce effective national legislation, regulations and/or standards to, at a minimum, stop the manufacture, import and sale of household decorative lead paints.
Countries are also encouraged to consider limiting lead in all types of paints.
The Lead Paint Alliance
Lead is a cumulative toxicant that poses serious risks to human health and development, with children being especially vulnerable. Lead-containing paint remains one of the major sources of lead exposure for children globally. The international community, governments, industry and nongovernmental organizations are working together to promote the establishment of lead paint laws in all countries.
In 2009, the second International Conference on Chemicals Management under the SAICM policy framework endorsed a global partnership to promote the phasing out of lead paint and invited UN Environment and WHO to serve as the joint Secretariat for this partnership. Subsequently the Lead Paint Alliance was established and formally launched in 2011, with the goal of phasing out the manufacture, import and sale of paints containing lead and eventually to eliminate the risks from such paint. The Lead Paint Alliance is a voluntary, collaborative initiative co-led by UN Environment and WHO. The goal of the Lead Paint Alliance is for all countries to have lead paint laws in place by 2020. Countries that have only put in place legally binding controls on lead coatings used on children’s toys are not counted toward this Alliance goal. Eliminating lead paint on children’s toys provides only partial protection, since it does not address household decorative paints. Likewise, countries that have only ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) White Lead (Painting) Convention, 1921 (No. 13), which prohibits the use of lead carbonate and lead sulphate in paints, are also not included in this update. Since these lead compounds are no longer widely used in paints, the ILO Convention alone provides little benefit in protecting against lead exposure.
The Lead Paint Alliance promotes and coordinates the efforts of diverse stakeholders, including governments, industries, nongovernmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations, to protect people around the world from exposure to lead from paint. See image below showing the organisations and governments that make up the Lead Paint Alliance Advisory Council.
The Lead Paint Alliance Advisory Council
The Lead Paint Alliance Advisory Council
Overview of the Lead Paint Alliance's Accomplishments
Lead Paint AllianceUN Environment and WHO published the Lead Paint Alliance operational framework.
SWITCH-Asia Lead Paint Elimination ProjectThe European Union (EU) funded work led by the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) in seven Asian countries to help phase out lead paint, five of which ended up passing lead paint laws.
GEF UN Environment Lead Paint Elimination Project in AfricaIPEN worked directly with four countries and reached out to additional countries in Africa to promote lead paint phase out. Three countries ended up passing lead paint laws.
WHO Chemicals Management RoadmapThe Roadmap included an action item for WHO Member States to establish lead paint laws.
ABA Resolution on Lead PaintThe ABA encouraged their members to support lead paint laws worldwide.
2017 Global Status UpdateUN Environment provided lead paint background information and an update on progress toward establishing laws.
Model Law & Guidance for Regulating Lead PaintUN Environment provided lead paint background information and a model template for a lead paint law.
UNEA 3 Resolution on Lead PaintMember States passed a resolution calling for the global elimination of lead paint through the establishment of lead paint laws.
Two-Year Lead Paint Alliance Action PlanThe TwoYear Lead Paint Alliance Action Plan laid out concrete actions for partners to promote lead paint elimination.
SAICM GEF ProjectThe project will assist governments to establish lead paint laws in at least 40 countries and provide guidance to industry to facilitate the shift to producing non-lead paints.
Key findings of the 2019 global update report
Lead Exposure from Paint
Historically, lead compounds have been added to oil-based decorative and industrial paints and other coatings to enhance colour, reduce corrosion on metal surfaces or shorten drying time. Today, non-leaded pigments, driers and anti-corrosive ingredients are widely available for use in most oil-based paints.
After the application of lead paint, weathering, peeling or chipping of the paint releases lead particles into dust and soil in and around homes, schools, playgrounds and other locations. Decorative paint for household use has been identified as the main source of children’s lead exposure from paints. Lead-containing dust can also be brought into the home on the clothes of those who work in industries where such dust is generated, including paint factories where lead additives continue to be used.
Lead-contaminated soil and dust are easily ingested and absorbed, particularly by young children when they play on the floor or outdoors and put their hands or other objects in their mouths. Children also ingest lead if they mouth and chew toys painted with lead paint. Both children and adults can be exposed to lead in paint chips and dust during the removal of old lead paint.
Negative Health Effects from Lead Exposure
There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe. Lead can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, resulting in decreased IQ and increased behavioural problems. It can also cause anemia, increase the risk of kidney damage and hypertension, and impair reproductive function. Young children and pregnant women (whose developing fetus can be exposed) are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of lead. Even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and irreversible neurological damage. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has estimated that, based on 2017 data, lead exposure accounted for 1.06 million deaths from long term effects and 24.4 million disability adjusted life years (DALYs) lost.
Preventing Health Effects and Related Economic Costs
The negative impacts on children’s developing brains resulting from exposure to lead has staggering economic costs that are borne by the affected children, their families and societies at large. These include health care costs, productivity losses and intellectual disability.
The largest economic burden of lead exposure is borne by low- and middle-income countries. Estimated annual costs (in international dollars) of lead exposure by global region, based on loss of IQ, include the following: Africa - $134.7 billion; Latin America and the Caribbean - $142.3 billion; and Asia - $699.9 billion.
The cost of removing existing decorative lead paint from surfaces in homes, schools and other buildings can be substantial. By contrast, the economic cost is low for eliminating the use of lead compounds in new decorative paints. In fact, many manufacturers have already successfully reformulated their paint products to avoid the intentional addition of lead. According to the paint industry, the reformulation of residential and decorative paints to eliminate lead additives is feasible, and the technical and cost impacts are manageable. Increasingly, paint producers are publicly stating that it is possible to eliminate lead additives in all types of paint.
Lead is Still Present in Paint in High Levels in Many Countries
Since 2009, more than 100 studies have shown that lead paints are still widely sold in low- and middle-income countries. Most of the paints tested for lead were found to exceed the 90 parts per million (ppm) or 600 ppm legal limit that has been set by many countries as an achievable limit. In addition, many of these paints contained very high levels of lead: above 10,000 ppm of the dry weight of the paint.
The Importance of Lead Paint Laws
The elimination of lead exposure at its source is the single most effective action to protect people from the harmful effects of lead. Most industrialized countries adopted laws or regulations to control the lead content of residential and decorative paints in the 1970s and 1980s, based on clear findings that lead-containing household paint is a major source of lead exposure in children. However, the continued use of lead in paint in many parts of the world remains a significant environmental source of human exposure. To protect human health, laws, regulations or enforceable standards are needed in every country to stop the manufacture, sale and import of lead-containing paints.
Countries that have enacted laws to limit the lead content in paint have generally used one of two approaches:
(1) establish a single regulatory limit on the total concentration of lead in paint from all sources, or;
(2) establish a set of chemical-specific regulatory limits based on the management of risks of individual lead compounds that are used as additives in paint (currently used in the EU's Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical (REACH) regulation).
Both approaches have been effective in limiting the lead content in paint.
90 ppm total lead is the concentration limit recommended by the "Model Law and Guidance for Regulating Lead Paint". It is the lowest, most protective regulatory limit for lead paints that has been set in countries.
Legal Approach 1: Regulatory Limits on Total Lead Concentration
As of September 2019, of the 73 countries with lead paint laws, 35 countries had established a single regulatory limit on the total or soluble lead concentration in paint (in parts per million). These existing lead limits range from 90 ppm to 1,000 ppm or higher. Twenty-nine countries have a limit of 90, 100 or 600 ppm, which are all relatively low levels and indicate that lead compounds have probably not been added to the paint. Among countries with low limits, only one country uses a regulatory limit on soluble lead content, which is somewhat less protective than a limit on total lead content. There may be additional countries that also currently use a regulatory limit on soluble rather than total lead.
Legal Approach 2: Chemical-Specific Regulatory Limits
Chemical-specific regulatory limits are used by 38 countries, of which 31 have adopted the EU REACH regulation on lead compounds in paints. EU REACH restricts the addition of certain specific lead compounds to paints intended for supply to the general public, based on risk management assessments. Some specific lead compounds for use in paints are subject to an authorization procedure for manufacturers and importers that requires analyses of health and environmental risks and the availability of non-lead alternatives.
AcknowledgementsThis is a publication developed by UN Environment in partnership with WHO and US EPA, the Chair of the Lead Paint Alliance. Copyright © United Nations Environment Programme, 2019, All rights reserved worldwide. This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part and in any form for educational or non-profit purposes without special permission from the copyright holder, provided acknowledgement of the source is made. The United Nations Environment Programme would appreciate receiving a copy of any publication that uses this publication as a source. No use of this publication may be made for resale or for any other commercial purpose whatsoever without prior permission in writing from the United Nations Environment Programme.
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