An Urgent Need to go lead-free

Jun 19, 2015 |



Are we living in healthy homes? Are our children learning and playing in safe schools? These are questions we must ask ourselves with regards to the paint we use to brighten up our homes, schools and work places, and protect them from the elements.

Seventy percent of paints that are commonly used in Nepal have a lead content of well above 90 parts per million (ppm), the internationally accepted standard for lead in paints. The finding, which is based on three consecutive studies of lead in paints carried out for the first time in Nepal by the researchbased NGO Centre for Public Health and Envrionmental Development (CEPHED) over a three year duration (from 2010 to 2013) has also shown that such high lead contents are particularly found in enamel paints. Another alarming report, based on the latest available study of lead in enamel paints under the EU-funded Switch Asia Programme, found that the maximum level of lead found in paint in Nepal was 130,000 ppm, 1444 times more than the US, China and India standards for lead in paints.

This was in 2013, and an absence of required legislative and institutional frameworks to regulate lead in paints is largely to blame for such startling figures.

A study of lead in household and schools dusts, further conducted under the Switch Asia project on lead paint elimination shows very serious levels of lead in household and school dust. Dust samples collected from class rooms in the Kathmandu Valley found five out of five (i.e. 100 percent) of these rooms to be contaminated with lead. Some 77 percent of the dust samples collected from class room floors were found to contain hazardous lead levels of more than 10 μg/ft2. Further, 23 percent of the tested samples contained extremely dangerous level of lead–more than 40 μg/ft2. The maximum lead level in a school was a startling 108 μg/ft2. Of the 16 private residential homes sampled, one or more samples from little less than half (seven out of 16 or 43.75 percent) of the locations contained levels of lead between 8-40μg/ ft2 (counted as a threat to living, especially regarding children’s health.



Deadly toxic heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, chromium and bromide, among others, have been detected in children’s toys imported, sold and used here


BPKIHS Dharan, 2014) evaluated blood lead levels among 304 primary school going children in Kathmandu Metropolitan City revealing that 73 percent of the children had detectable blood lead levels, 66 percent had lead blood levels higher than 5?g/dl (the Center for Disease Control and Prevention– CDC, recommended value) and 55 percent had levels higher that 10 ?g/dl (the WHO recommended value). Blood lead levels were signifi cantly higher in children living in homes with chipped wall paint. TheCDC and other bodies have now declared that there is no “safe” blood lead level.

Additionally, other deadly toxics heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, chromium and bromide, among others, have been detected in children’s toys imported, sold and used in Nepal.

Our children’s brains get only one chance at developing

Some chemicals–lead, mercury and organophosphate pesticides, among others–have long been recognised as toxic substances that can have lasting effects on children’s neurological health, says Bruce Lanphear, health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University, Canada.

In his book “Little Things Matter”, Lanphear makes this case through the following points:

  • In the 1960s, hundreds of children died from severe lead poisoning every summer.Since then, much lower levels of exposure have been shown to result in learning deficits and brain disorders, like ADHD.
  • As the level of lead in children's blood increases from 0 to 100 ppb, IQ scores drop by about 6 points.
  • In contrast, an increase from 100 to 200 ppb results in an IQ drop of 2 more points.
  • An increase from 200 to 300 ppb results in an IQ drop of another point.
  • The impact of toxins on the developing brain is permanent.
  • Children who are more heavily exposed to toxins won’t reach the same peak cognitive ability as those who have lower exposures.
  • These studies show that there is no safe level of exposure.
  • Most of us have IQ scores that fall between 85 and 115 points.
  • Only 2.5% of children have an IQ above 130, which is considered gifted.
  • There are about 6 million children in this group.
  • On the other end of the distribution, another 2.5% of children have an IQ below 70, which is considered “challenged.”
  • The impact of exposure to a toxin like LEAD causes a 5-point drop in IQ.
  • This shift results in a 57% increase in the number of children that are challenged, from 6 million to 9.4 million.
  • There is a corresponding decrease in the number of children that are gifted, from 6 million to 2.4 million.

Deadly toxic heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, chromium and bromide, among others, have been detected in children’s toys imported, sold and used here

While leaded paint is to be banned in the Nepal, to be effective from June 20, 2015, it is expected that lead will still be present in many paints imported and produced in Nepal, and hence in homes and schools and other living and working spaces as a result. Children can also be exposed to lead from paints, colours and metals used in toys.

Prevention is better than cure

When it comes to reducing existing exposures, some chemicals can be avoided through consumer choice. But this is often difficult, given that many of these substances are used–like lead on receipts–in products that don’t carry ingredient labels as paint cans do.

Government response

After years of campaigned based on scientific studies carried out in Nepal and the alarming findings these have resulted in, a new mandatory standard of 90 ppm lead in paints has been promulgated by the Government of Nepal. This is the standard that will take effect from June 20, 2015.

The new standard sets a mandatory limit of 90 ppm lead content for any paint imported, produced, sold or used in Nepal. The standard is consistent with other lead paint standards around the world. The standard also requires correct labelling of lead content on paint cans as well as precautionary information to prevent occupational exposure. These efforts are meant to ensure overall public health, especially that of children, and environment protection.


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