The Truth about Lead Compounds in Paint

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The Truth about Lead Compounds in Paint

The truth is that lead in paint is a very emotive subject. Every now and then, sensational tabloid articles announce something along the lines of:  60% of all paint sold in South Africa contains illegal levels of brain damaging lead! This makes the paint industry in South Africa seem as though they are either oblivious to the lead levels in paint or disinterested in owning up to the responsibility of trying to poison our children.

The truth is also, that when it comes to paint, lead compounds are commonly used the world over in the form of pigments, which are used to colour paint. Some countries have agreed on “safe” limits for paint manufacturers to use as a guideline, and it’s widely agreed that the elimination and reduction of the use of lead compounds in consumer products like paint forms part of adhering to a responsible company policy.

There is, however, more to lead poisoning than the tabloids are telling us and what follows are some facts that will help you gain perspective.

Get educated

A summary of the current, up-to-date information on lead is necessary to get the proper perspective. Firstly, it should be understood that lead has accumulative (chronic) toxicity and can collect in the body. Lead is a naturally occurring element and is found throughout nature. Our bodies can handle small amounts of lead and if we intake a small amount our body simply excretes it. If, however, the intake is excessive, the lead will accumulate over a period of time and there will be side effects.

Metabolic differences affect lead absorption

A same amount of ingested or inhaled lead will not affect adults and children equally, because of the physiological differences between them. Metabolic differences between children and adults also mean that the effects of lead upon children are exacerbated. Lead causes irreversible nervous system damage and decreased intelligence in children, even at very low doses.

Curiosity can be a killer

Children have a tendency to put strange things in their mouths, and many years ago, children were in the habit of chewing on painted wooden windowsills, because the compound of the lead in the paint used as wood primers had a sweet taste. This resulted in many deaths and raised the concern about the effects of lead in paint on children.

Soluble… or not?

Lead is easily soluble even in water, which makes it very toxic. It is the solubility of certain lead compounds in the acid of the stomach that makes it so dangerous to us. If the lead is in such a form that it is not soluble in stomach acids, then there is no danger. It is therefore perfectly safe to continue using Granny’s beautiful lead crystal glassware. It has been established that lead solubility in acid is the deciding factor when determining the danger levels of a lead compound, because the stomach acids can render the lead soluble and in doing so, make it toxic. In this way it is not the total amount of lead that is found in paint that’s important, but the amount of soluble lead, and accordingly, this is the definition given in the lead regulations.

Manufacturers take a stand

Manufacturers belonging to SAPMA (South African Paint Manufacturers Association) have acknowledged that 0.01% is the suitable limit of leads in dried paints. Lead is so widespread that it is virtually impossible to call anything ‘Lead free’ and for this reason most manufacturers prefer to use the term ‘No added lead’ when referring to this subject. Paints outside this limit are generally safe for ordinary use, but should be excluded from use on articles that could be chewed on by children and babies. Products over this limit should therefore be clearly labelled with a warning that the paint is not suitable to be used on anything that can possibly be chewed or sucked on by children.

Lead in paint stabilises bright colours

Besides the use of red and white lead in primers or undercoats, lead based pigments still remain to be the most cost-effective method of obtaining stable, bright and durable paint colours, particularly for colours such as yellow, red and green.

Lead is all around us

What needs to be understood is that thousands of tons of lead are distributed through car exhausts. The plant life that surrounds us absorbs some of it and so it gets integrated into the food chain. In addition, the lead content in the ground, particularly in areas where gold mining and uranium extraction have been prevalent for decades, exacerbates the issue even further. Attempting to draw attention away from this fact by blaming paint is counterproductive. The damage has already been done and the emphasis now needs to be placed on minimising the effects.

If you’re in need of paint and are looking for paint that adheres to all necessary safety regulations visit your nearest Jack’s Paint & Hardware store.

Click on our store locator to find a store near you or phone 0860 522 577(toll free).