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article imageOp-Ed: The struggle against lead poisoning, young children most at risk

By R. C. Camphausen     Apr 19, 2013 in Environment
While lead in paint has been banned in Europe and the US for years, certain companies still produce lead paint and sell it abroad. There, yet also at home, young children still suffer the consequences: lower IQ, slowed body growth, failure at school.
Lead is a metal found in soil, water, air and dust -- as well as in products used in or around our homes; for example in paint and toys. Lead is dangerous for both children and adults, yet the very young, up to age six, are most likely to contract lead poisoning as they breathe in or swallow dust from old lead paint particles that collect on floors and windowsills, hands and toys.
A website affiliated with Yale University and known as environment 360 introduces the situation as follows:
Lead is added to paint as a pigment or a drying agent. As the paint ages, lead in chips and dust contaminates living spaces and is easily ingested by small children. Even low levels of exposure can torpedo kids’ IQ, motor skills, and other important neurological functions, and have been linked to poor academic performance, behavioral problems, and criminal activity. European nations began banning leaded indoor paint early in the 20th century, and the U.S. followed suit in 1978 after decades of opposition from the paint industry. However, lead remains legal in the U.S. in paints for automotive, industrial, and various other applications.
Yet lead paint continues to haunt American children, despite huge cleanup efforts and public-education campaigns. Of the nation’s nearly 100 million housing units, a quarter have significant lead-paint hazards, according to a 2002 study, the latest data available. About half a million children under age five have elevated blood lead levels, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and scientists say lead paint is the primary cause.
That's bad news if you live in the US, but what I find even more disturbing is that after the US ban, companies like Pittsburgh Paints (PPG) and others simply changed markets; selling their poisonous wares through subsidiaries such as Seigneurie. PPG is a global supplier of paints, coatings and chemicals and operates in at least 70 countries, while Seigneurie, its French daughter, is represented in a dozen developing nations.
Meanwhile, yet only since 2012, PPG has eliminated lead from its paints, and their website now features a the words green and sustainability -- wholly in tune with the times.
In 2009, researchers tested paints in nearly 40 developing nations, noticing that oil-based enamel paints often contain high levels of lead. The highest dose found was in Ecuador, with the paint containing 355 times the present U.S. standard. Considering that the poisoning effects of lead become more and more problematic as the paint ages, children everywhere will be at risk for decades to come.
On a website called Drugs Information Online, someone has summed up what harm lead can do. Here's what it says:
- Behavior or attention problems
- Failure at school
- Hearing problems
- Kidney damage
- Reduced IQ
- Slowed body growth
The reader can also consult this website for a long list of items that contain lead, from toys made outside Europe and the US (China is a well known supplier) to fishing sinkers, curtain weights and painted glass.
Read all labels -- if there are any!
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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