24 – 30 October 2021: International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week- ‘Working together for a world without lead paint’

The eighth International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week will be celebrated from 24th to 30th October 2021.

This week of action is an initiative of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint (the Lead Paint Alliance), which is jointly led by UNEP and WHO. The primary goal of the Alliance is to promote the global phase-out of lead paint through the establishment of appropriate legally binding measures to stop the manufacture, import, export, distribution, sale and use of lead paints in every country. International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is an opportunity to draw attention to the need for action on lead paint and other sources of lead exposure.

The focus of this year’s week of action is on the need to accelerate progress towards the global phase out of lead paint through regulatory and legal measures.

The campaign theme this year is: Working together for a world without lead paint

Background Information:

Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal found in the Earth’s crust. It has many uses, including in the manufacture of lead-acid batteries for motor vehicles and energy storage, in pigments and paints, solder, ammunition, ceramic glazes, jewellery, toys and also in some cosmetics and traditional medicines. 

The processing, use and disposal of lead can result in environmental, food and water contamination with consequent human exposure. As lead is an element, it persists as a potential source of exposure once released into the environment. 

Lead poisoning refers to excessive human exposure to lead.

Exposure can occur from

  • inhalation of lead fumes and particles (e.g., from smelting) or
  • ingestion of lead-contaminated dust (for example, from decaying lead paint),
  • water (from leaded pipes) and
  • food (from lead-glazed or lead-soldered containers).

This exposure may occur over a short period (acute poisoning) or over a prolonged period (chronic poisoning). No level of exposure to lead that is without harmful effects has so far been identified.

Once lead enters the body, it is distributed to organs such as the brain, kidneys, liver and bones. The body stores lead in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Lead stored in bone may be released into the blood during pregnancy, thus exposing the fetus.

Undernourished children are more susceptible to lead because their bodies absorb more lead if other nutrients, such as calcium or iron, are lacking. Children at highest risk are the very young (including the developing fetus) and the economically disadvantaged.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning because they absorb 4–5 times as much ingested lead as adults from a given source and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health impacts, particularly on the development of the brain and nervous system. Lead exposure can result in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ) and attention span, impaired learning ability, and increased risk of behavioral problems. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight.

Largest economic burden from lead exposure falls on low- and middle- income countries; estimated annual costs = $977 billion worldwide.

After nearly 20 years, lead in gasoline has been phased out under the leadership of the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles.

Key Messages:

Lead paint is a major source of lead exposure for kids. Lead is added to some paints for color, to speed up drying and to prevent corrosion. As lead paint ages, it flakes and crumbles, creating lead-contaminated dust and soil.

In many countries, it is still permitted to manufacture and sell lead paint that can be used in homes and schools, creating a significant risk of children’s exposure to lead.

When lead paint is used in homes, schools, and playgrounds, children can be exposed to lead by putting hands, dust, soil or paint chips in their mouths. Health risks can be avoided by using paints without added lead.

The manufacture of paint without added lead does not involve significant additional cost, and alternative ingredients are available.  Many manufacturers have already stopped or committed to stop adding lead to their paints.

What can governments do?

To #BanLeadPaint for #ILPPW2021,

  • governments without legal limits should establish and implement limits, building on the Model Law & Guidance for Regulating Lead Paint, developed by the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint. https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/publication/model-law-and-guidance-regulating-lead-paint
  • where lead paint laws exist but are not protective of public health, governments are encouraged to strengthen regulations. Take all necessary measures to ensure full compliance with legal limits.
  • governments can spread awareness, including on-line and in social media, and organize events to promote action to address lead paint.

What can industry do?

To #BanLeadPaint for #ILPPW2021, industry can

  • voluntarily stop the manufacture, import and sale of lead paint where legal limits are not yet in place, and show commitment to comply with a legal limit where it exists or is being established.
  • identify ways for regional paint associations and large manufacturers to support other companies in stopping their use of lead additives, and assist national governments in setting legal limits.
  • act as “champions” by engaging specifically with small and medium enterprises to encourage their reformulation of lead paint.

What can civil society do?

To #BanLeadPaint for #ILPPW2021, civil society organizations can

  • engage with governments and industry to support development and implementation of legal limits on lead in paint and encourage reformulation of lead paint.
  • educate policy makers, parents and others on the dangers of lead paint and how to prevent lead poisoning; and continue paint sampling studies to support new and stronger legal limits.
  • conduct awareness raising and consumer education about the hazards of lead paint.

The legal community can urge lawyers, firms, and bar associations to support legal limits on lead paint through pro bono support and educational initiatives.

Health organizations can engage the medical community and health care providers, reach out to schools, and engage with governments and industry to support legal limits on lead in paint.

Useful Links:

Link to the related WHO news release:

https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2021/10/24/default-calendar/international-lead-poisoning-prevention-week-2021—working-together-for-a-world-without-lead-paint

Four things you should know about lead:

Link to Question and Answers about Lead:

https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/chemical-safety-lead-poisoning

Link to the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week 2021 site:

https://www.who.int/campaigns/international-lead-poisoning-prevention-week/2021

Link to WHO Fact sheet on Lead poisoning and Health:

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health

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