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Dhaka Tribune

Ban lead-based paints for healthy children

Childhood lead poisoning is considered to be the most preventable environmental health hazard young children face

Update : 28 Oct 2019, 12:21 AM

Development activists and experts at a Dhaka seminar urged the government to outlaw lead paint to prevent children's exposure to lead in paint chips and dust in buildings and homes.

Childhood lead poisoning is considered to be the most preventable environmental health hazard young children face.

On Sunday, speakers underscored the urgent need to address the lead poisoning problem  at a round table, “International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action 2019,” organized by the Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO) at its headquarters.

Experts said leaded paints are particularly dangerous for children because the brains of children are developing. Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health, including damage to the brain and nervous system, stunted growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems.

Lead exposure results in reduced IQ in children, cognitive and behavioral problems, school performance, as well as other health effects like anemia and renal impairment.

Bangladesh has recently enacted a law limiting  90 parts-per-million (ppm) of lead in decorative paints. At least 73 countries currently have similar statutory limits on the production, import, or sale of paints with lead. 

ESDO Secretary General Dr. Shahriar Hossain said Bangladesh has already set an international standard. However, Bangladesh's neighboring countries, India and Nepal  recently banned lead paint entirely. Against this backdrop, a number of Indian businesses are reportedly selling their lead paints in Bangladesh because of India's restriction on leaded paints.

“A year ago there were only 5 multinational companies in Bangladesh. The number has increased to 22, selling paints in Bangladesh. Of them, at least 7 are Indian firms. They are importing leaded paints from India  in cargo containers, then packing and selling it in Bangladesh. The government has remained indifferent and done nothing. If leaded paints are banned, then the government would be able to restrict them from selling,”  he said. 

ESDO chairperson Syed Marghub Morshed, said: “Any amount of lead exposure is harmful to health. Decorative paint for household use has been identified as the main source of children’s lead exposure from paints. Government should take further regulatory steps as paints with lead are still available in the local market.”

“We want a rule which will say that lead paint production is a punishable offense. Only then the government will be able to enforce the rules,” he said.  

Experts said a 2013 study estimated that the national GDP of Bangladesh is reduced by nearly 6% because of IQ loss due to lead exposure to children in the country. Across the Asia Pacific region, the annual economic cost of lead exposure is thought to be around $700 billion, or nearly 2% of regional GDP. 

Meanwhile, ESDO studies on paints sold in Dhaka and Chittagong in 2013 and 2015, discovered lead concentrations in yellow paints averaging about 40,000 ppm, hundreds of times higher than the new 90 ppm standard. In 2013, ESDO found no paints that fell below the 90 ppm standard.  In 2015, nine paint samples (out of 49 tested) were below 90 ppm, but 17 samples were above 10,000 ppm. 

Siddika Sultana, CEO and executive director of ESDO said:  “It’s critical that the government of Bangladesh take immediate steps to regulate and test paints. The trust of the nation is placed on it to protect our children from this dangerous neurotoxin.”

Lead hazards in a child’s environment must be identified and controlled or removed safely. Lead is invisible to the naked eye and has no smell.

Lead exposure affects human health, especially children's health. There is no known level of lead exposure without harmful effects. Even low levels of lead exposure may cause lifelong health problems. 

Among others, chemistry Professor Dr Abul Hashem of Jahangirnagar University, and ESDO Advisor and former chief conservator of forests, Istiaq Uddin Ahmed,  spoke at the meeting.   

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