A new research has shown that oil-based paint sold by more than 50 percent brands in Harare contain toxic levels of lead, posing a potential threat to the health of Zimbabweans, mostly children.
The most harmful paints were typically observed to be yellow and red colours.
This suggests that paint could be a major source of exposure for the millions of children in Zimbabwe with lead poisoning.
As a result, EMA has called on lead paint manufacturers to urgently remove lead from their products.
In the study, the Lead Exposure Elimination Project (LEEP) in partnership with the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) tested 147 oil-based paints from 63 brands for sale in Harare.
Lead exposure has severe negative health impacts, particularly on children. It causes permanent
In an interview with LEEP Programmes Manager, Bal Dhital he said:
“The paints were mainly brush-on oil-based paints, but also included some spray paints and colourants.
“Fifty-five percent of the brands sampled sold one or more paints containing levels of lead higher than the level recommended by the World Health Organisation.
“Some paints contained over 1,000 times the safe limit.
“Some brands made ‘lead free’ or ‘non-toxic’ green-washing claims despite their paint containing hazardous levels of lead.”
Bal said lead exposure has severe negative health impacts, particularly on children.
“It causes permanent damage to their brain development, worsening their educational outcomes and future potential.
“Later in life, lead exposure causes hypertension and heart disease.
“It can be symptomless or present with mild symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, stomach discomfort or nausea, making it easily missed.
“Potential lead poisoning from paint and other sources is estimated to affect 5.7 million children in Zimbabwe, costing the country $298 million in lost earnings every year.”
EMA and LEEP’s research found hazardous levels of lead in five major paint brands and in twenty-nine smaller brands.
“Both decorative brush-on oil-based house paints as well as spray paints were found to be toxic. The most harmful paints were typically yellow and red colours.”
On the role LEEP is playing to deal with the situation Bal said:
“LEEP works in close partnership with governments and paint manufacturers to address this issue.
“We provide technical advice to governments regulating lead paint, and free technical advice to manufacturers reformulating their products.
“In this way, we work towards our goal of helping children in Zimbabwe be safe from lead poisoning by preventing further exposure to lead paint.”
Lead exposure can be caused by various sources, with oil-based decorative paint being an important source globally. The new research from EMA and LEEP suggests that oil-based paint is likely to be one major cause of childhood lead poisoning in Zimbabwe.
EMA Director General Aaron Chigona, the data in this initial study provides clear evidence on this important issue.
“We strongly urge manufacturers to immediately remove lead ingredients from their paint.
“LEEP provides free support to manufacturers to help them in this process and EMA encourages industry to take up this offer. EMA will be taking steps to regulate lead in oil-based paint and to create a country free from the harms of lead paint exposure.”
While, Dr Clare Donaldson, Co-Executive Director of LEEP, said:
“We applaud EMA’s initiative in conducting this important study, and look forward to supporting the Government of Zimbabwe’s efforts to regulate lead paint.
“As more manufacturers worldwide switch to paint without added lead, we encourage industry partners in Zimbabwe to take up LEEP’s offer of free support. We offer no-cost technical assistance to industry partners looking to remove lead from their paint and to solve this critical problem together.”
A WHO Representative to Zimbabwe Professor Jean-Marie Dangou, said.
“WHO recognises the economic impact of lead poisoning which includes increased healthcare costs, lost productivity, and decreased economic growth.
“By addressing the issue of lead poisoning in Zimbabwe, the government can protect the health of its citizens and promote sustainable economic development.”
Professor Dangou urges the Government of Zimbabwe to review their paint production processes with the aim of reducing lead content below the recommended limit set by WHO.
“It is crucial that we take intentional steps to protect our children from the devastating effects of lead poisoning.”
In 2023, EMA convened a meeting of key stakeholders to discuss the issue and set out clear actions to eliminate lead paint in Zimbabwe.
EMA and LEEP plan to conduct a follow-up study to assess whether brands have reduced lead to safe levels.