Lead in Paints in India and its Weak Regulation by the Government


There is a cultural significance of whitewashing and painting houses in India, during festivals like Diwali people paint their houses with colours for cleanliness but did you know that the paint you use contains pollutants, which are harmful and can even cause mental retardation or death? And pollute our environment instead of cleaning it?

Household paint is still one of the biggest sources of indoor pollution today. The government in India has attempted to set up a regulatory mechanism to prevent the heavy presence of lead in paints, but the implementation part remains difficult. As less known and locally produced and consumed brands use lead in quantities much higher than the permissible limit of 90PPM allowed by government regulations.

an indian man painting a wall with lead based paint

Lead poisoning can make cause weakness, damage to your kidneys and brain, and cause anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells). High levels of lead can be fatal. Pregnant women who are exposed to lead also expose their unborn child to the substance since lead can penetrate the placental barrier making the developing child vulnerable to its adverse effects.

This is one of the reasons why this hazardous chemical is widely present in paints as there is no certification authority prescribed by the Government of India that can check the level of lead in paints and certify ones that have either low amounts of lead or are lead free.

Lead is added to paint to accelerate drying, increase its durability, Also lead adds a polish like shine on the painted surface or walls that gives an impression of fresh paint and resist moisture that can cause the paint to crack.

In a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) that established that lead causes mental retardation in developing children, the study proposed that “an increase of 10 to 20 µg/dL in the blood decreases IQ points by 2.6 points.”

lead laden paint

Our human bodies can not process Lead, once ingested it starts accumulating inside the body mainly in teeth and bones.

If you are wondering if my indoor paint contains lead, let us tell you that all types of paints like enamel based paints, distemper and emulsions all contain lead. However, emulsions contain the highest amount of lead.

Paint is not very harmful as long as it sticks properly to the surface, but as soon as the paint begins to crack and break free like flaky particles, the paint becomes harmful as the lead contained in it is released. The paint dust created when house is repainted is most harmful and should be disposed properly.

Flaky paint on walls
Image credit- Toxic Links

India has been a little late in taking the issue of paint poisoning seriously. Lead is eliminated in paints in developed countries and industry standards in those countries have replaced to lead-free paints. While our efforts to eliminate lead in India are still on. The government made the rules by the end of 2016.

The Indian government issued notification under the wider umbrella of Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986, to set a limit of 90ppm content of lead in paint, but there is a catch, which is it left it to paint companies to “self-certify” their product as lead-free, which serves as one of the drawbacks of regulation. Presently Paint lead related rules are enforce by Central Pollution control board (CPCB).

In a study conducted by the Center of Science and Environment (CSE) in 2008, it was found that most of the well-known and top brands had lead content 185 times more than the 1000 ppm limit set by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) in those days.

Another study by ToxicLink, a New Delhi-based NGO, claimed that small and medium-sized businesses produced most of the high lead paint. The study therefore recommended using only branded paints from large manufacturers and checking labels certifying presence of lead 90PPM or less.

Read: Why does India need evidence-based crime policy more than ever?

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