Ethiopia is soon to ban the import of lead-based paints containing more than the maximum allowable lead content.
The Council of Ministers has approved a regulation drafted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change to affect the ban. The regulation bans the import, export, manufacturing, wholesale, distribution and retail of paints and any other paint product containing 0.009pc total concentration.
The regulation, which has been under draft for the past two years, mandates that manufacturers label the total concentration of lead content on their products.
The ban came into effect following research conducted to ascertain the presence of high concentrations of lead in the environment, according to Ayele Hegena (PhD), director of Policy, Law and Development at the Ministry.
Lead is considered a highly toxic material responsible for various adverse effects on human health and the environment, and is a known to cause nerve system damage, kidney malfunctions, blood poisoning and reproductive failures as established by various research. In fact, the League of Nations – a predecessor of the United Nations – tried to ban lead paint as the 1920s early the 1920’s.
Lead is found in enamel or oil-based paints and adds glitter, protects paint degradation from exposure to sunlight and is used as a drying agent.
It is estimated that 75pc of oil-based paint products used locally contain lead concentrations above 90ppm, the globally recognised standard. According to a 2017 report prepared by Pesticide Action Nexus Association, “Lead In Solvent-based Paints for House Use in Ethiopia”, over 42pc of oil-based paints in the country contain dangerously high levels of lead concentrations, the highest result obtained being 100,000ppm.
The World Health Organization estimates that lead is responsible for causing 0.6pc of global sicknesses, with some 600,000 new cases of lead poisoning of children resulting in learning disabilities reported every year. There is a worldwide movement to eliminate lead paint by 2020.
Many countries banned the import and manufacture of materials containing lead some four decades ago, according to Ayele.
To inspect the production and importation of paints, the Ministry will work with the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority, Ethiopian Conformity Assessment Enterprise and the Ethiopian Standards Agency. The former will check the content of the materials in the import items, while the Enterprise will be in charge of conducting laboratory tests. The Agency will also prepare standards for the inspection process.
Paints with lead are widely used to catch children’s attention and are found in toys, indoor and outdoor playground equipment, books, art materials and home furnishings, according to Ayele.
Lead is dispersed into the environment when paint chips off the painted surfaces, according to Belachew Hailemariam, a policy analyst expert at the Ministry.
“When the material deteriorates, the lead starts to flake off and blow like dust,” said Belachew.
Companies are preparing to replace lead with other mixtures and compounds.
“We already substituted the input with another compound, zirconium,” said Sintayehu Tekelemariam, plant manager at D.H. Geda Zemillia Paint Factory. The company manufactures Mega Paints, one of 23 paint brands in the country that produce 391,300tn of adhesives and paint products annually.
The Chemical & Construction Inputs Industry Development Institute will also inspect the lead content of locally-produced and imported paints, according to Samuel Halala, director general of the Institute.
The new regulation also introduces safety measures to be taken during the production of paint. Owners of the building should also examine the concentration of lead in paint before the demolition of buildings. And take precautions if the concentration is above the standard.
Experts appreciate the Ministry’s move, even though they say it is late.
“There are also other products known for over-concentration of lead,” said Andualem Addisu (PhD), an Environmental Science lecturer at Bahir Dar University. “Pesticide, detergents and fertilisers have a large concentration of lead.”
The Ministry should work on the implementation on regulation in these products too, according to Andualem.
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