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WHO Makes Case for Laws to Eliminate Lead Paint

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By IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub , October 25, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a policy brief and accompanying technical brief on eliminating lead paint and ways for countries to take action.

The briefs, titled ‘Global elimination of lead paint: why and how countries should take action,’ describe lead’s toxic effects on human health, especially for children and pregnant women. The policy brief explains that as paint ages, it begins to crumble and flake, releasing lead into household dust. In addition, lead paint removal by abrasive methods or by charring or burning releases lead dust, particles, and fumes. Children ingest lead-contaminated dust through hand-to-mouth behavior, and may also suck and chew on lead-containing or lead-coated objects, including toys and furniture, and eat lead paint flakes. Workers are also exposed to lead and may bring lead dust home on their clothing.

The authors maintain that legally binding regulatory measures prohibiting lead in paint are key to preventing exposure. The policy brief  summarizes information on the background and rationale for eliminating lead paint and action countries can take, with more detailed information provided in the technical brief
 
The policy brief notes that while international efforts to eliminate lead paint have increased, the need remains for more legally binding control measures. It explains that lead paint laws create incentives for change by encouraging: paint manufacturers to reformulate their paints; ingredient suppliers to produce more and better non-lead ingredients; and paint importers and distributors to sell paints that comply with the laws. The brief also argues that a strong law creates a fair competitive market for paint manufacturers, importers, and exporters, and harmonized lead paint laws among countries can reduce trade barriers.

Eliminating lead paint, according to the brief, prevents losses due to reduced productivity and avoids costs of health impacts and of dealing with legacy lead paint. For example, dealing with legacy paint has an estimated cost of between USD 1.2 billion and USD 11 billion in the US. While some initial investment costs are necessary to reformulate paint, many manufacturers, including small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), have already reformulated their products, viewing it as part of their corporate social responsibility. 
 
To develop a lead paint law, the policy brief underscores the need for stakeholder engagement to gain support, and awareness-raising to promote the law's development and implementation. The Lead Paint Alliance has developed guidance materials and tools to help countries establish lead paint laws, including a Model Law and Guidance for Regulating Lead Paint

The briefs were published ahead of International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, which takes place from 25-31 October 2020.