Parents wanting to decorate their children's rooms, toys or playground equipment in bright colours should make sure the paint they use is lead-free, the Medical Research Council (MRC) warned on Monday.
MRC health and development research group acting director Angela Mathee told Sapa the occurrence of lead in pigmented enamel paint her team had sampled - bought at stores around the country – was "well over 80 percent".
Shocking lead levels observed
This follows a shock finding by the council earlier this year that 42 percent of a group of children tested in the Johannesburg area had levels of toxic lead in their blood that equalled or exceeded the World Health Organization's stipulated maximum level of 10 micrograms per decilitre.
The MRC team attributed the high levels to lead in paint.
High blood lead levels in children can cause reduction in IQ scores, inhibit school performance, and reduce the ability to concentrate. In severe cases, it causes changes to the nervous system leading to cognitive impairment and behavioural problems.
The MRC's discovery, which Mathee describes as a "chance finding" stemming from a larger study, said her team had been surprised lead in paint "came through so strongly".
Found in paints to which kids are exposed
It was of particular concern that lead was found in exactly the paints chosen for use in children's rooms, on toys, and on playground equipment.
"The MRC found there was no lead in PVA paints, or in white enamel. But in those pigmented enamel paints sampled, it found it to be very widespread, well over 80 percent.
"The brands in which lead occurred included big names, as well as lesser-known brands.
"So, until legislation is promulgated, it would be best for people to obtain an assurance from sellers or manufacturers that the paint is lead-free," she said.
Lead to be forced out
The Department of Health is currently drafting legislation to compel manufacturers not to use lead in the manufacture of paint.
MRC president Anthony Mbewu, speaking at the launch of the council's annual report in Cape Town on Monday, said some manufacturers in South Africa were "flouting a voluntary agreement" not to add lead to paint.
He declined to name them, saying the "non-representative and ad hoc" nature of the study done by the MRC team had made it "impossible to be specific about which manufacturers and which shops" were involved.
"While it is useful to name and shame... what was much more important was to ensure the public were alerted to the dangers of lead in paint, on both walls and toys; to start an awareness campaign; to hold the paint manufacturers to the agreement they've signed; and to [start] a process of developing legislation to ensure punitive action can be taken against people who flout those laws," Mbewu said.
When contacted, SA Paint Manufacturers' Association head Mike Hayes declined to comment on the issue of lead in paint. "I have nothing more to say; this is very old news," he told Sapa. – (Sapa)
High lead levels in toys
Enviro health Centre