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Lead in paint

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About Lead in paint

Lead is a cumulative toxic element particularly harmful to young children and pregnant women. There is no safe level of lead exposure known, and even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and irreversible neurological damages, such as loss of IQ points, poor educational attainment, attention deficit disorder and anti-social behavior. In adults, lead exposure can cause hypertension, renal impairment and damage to the reproductive organs. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has estimated that in 2017 lead exposure accounted for 1.05 million deaths due to long-term effects on health, with the highest burden in low and middle-income countries. 

Due to its versatile properties, lead has been used for millennia by humans for various types of industry and chemicals manufacturing. This is the case for lead paint, where lead compounds can be added to paint as pigments, driers or as anti-corrosives to add durability, opacity and color. Lead paint can be found in homes, schools and playgrounds and is an important source of exposure to lead for children. Intact lead paint is safe. However, as it ages the paint starts to decay, fragmenting into flakes and dust that contaminate the environment. Paint flakes and dust are readily swallowed by young children who typically play on the ground and frequently put their hands to their mouths.

Safer alternatives to lead compounds can be used in paints, and a number of paint companies have stopped using lead additives on a voluntary basis. The best way to protect the population from lead in paint exposure is to introduce and enforce laws that either ban or restrict the use of lead in paint. This is more cost-effective than to remediate homes and deal with the health consequences of lead exposure later on.

The International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) at its second session in 2009 identified lead paint as an emerging policy issue under the Strategic Approach framework. The ICCM in its third to fourth sessions continued to affirm the goal of eliminating lead paint and at its third session and mandated the creation of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint (Lead Paint Alliance). The Lead Paint Alliance led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and currently chaired by the US Environment Protection Agency (USEPA) aims to eliminate lead paint. The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) Global Environment Facility (GEF) project provides the impetus to attain the Lead Paint Alliance goal of eliminating lead paint.

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Lead Paint Factsheet
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Lead Paint Factsheet

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  • Factsheets and brochures
    Lead Paint Factsheet

    Factsheets and brochures

    Lead Paint Factsheet

    This factsheet presents the work of UNEP and the Lead Paint Alliance. The document also highlights its impacts and the SAICM GEF project Lead in paint component.

  • Infographic
    Interactive visualisation of legislation on lead in paint standards

    Infographic

    Interactive visualisation of legislation on lead in paint standards

    The interactive map shows the status of national lead paint laws as provided by governments to UNEP and WHO, Secretariat of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint. Information on an...

  • Factsheets and brochures
    Suggested Steps for Establishing a Lead Paint Law

    Factsheets and brochures

    Suggested Steps for Establishing a Lead Paint Law

    This fact sheet outlines steps that have been helpful in countries that have adopted lead paint laws. The steps are not necessarily sequential or needed in every country.

  • Policy document
    Model Law and Guidance for Regulating Lead Paint

    Policy document

    Model Law and Guidance for Regulating Lead Paint

    UN Environment, in cooperation with World Health Organization, United States Environment Protection Agency and other partners, has developed a model law and guidance in order to assist countries in...

  • Manuals and toolkits
    Draft Technical Guidelines on Paint Reformulation

    Manuals and toolkits

    Draft Technical Guidelines on Paint Reformulation

    These Technical Guidelines are developed to help address both capacity constraints and technical barriers to the substitution of lead compounds in paints with focus on SMEs needs for the effective...

  • Video
    4 things you should know about lead

    Video

    4 things you should know about lead

    Video animation explaining why lead and, in particular, lead paint is harmful to children and the need for countries to take action to stop this source of exposure. 

  • Website
    Lead levels in paint around the world

    Website

    Lead levels in paint around the world

    This interactive map provides country-specific data on lead paint levels around the world. Lead in paint is a major source of lead exposure for children globally. Since 2009, more than 100 studies...

  • Website
    Economic Costs of Childhood Lead Exposure in Low- & Middle-Income Countries

    Website

    Economic Costs of Childhood Lead Exposure in Low- & Middle-Income Countries

    This interactive map reflects the results of research by New-York University that estimates the economic costs linked to childhood lead exposure in low- and middle-income countries. Information as...

  • Website
    Health information about Lead

    Website

    Health information about Lead

    A range of documents provide information about the health impacts of lead, sources of lead exposure and methods for evaluating exposure.

  • Website
    International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (ILPPW)

    Website

    International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (ILPPW)

    The International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of action (ILPPW) takes place every year at the end of October. The objectives of the campaign are to raise awareness about health effects of lead...

  • Infographic
    Lead infographics

    Infographic

    Lead infographics

    What are the sources of lead in the environment? ...

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