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Time for action on lead compounds in paint

By Julian Hunter, AkzoNobel’s Director of Sustainable Value

You might be surprised to learn that in some parts of the world, lead compounds are still added to paint. They’re used as pigments and drying agents, even though the negative health effects from exposure to lead are well documented.

It’s perhaps something you’ve never really thought about, but what goes into paint and whether or not it contains lead compounds is of major importance.

I’m proud to say that AkzoNobel was the first major paint company to stop adding lead-based pigments and drying agents to paint and is still a frontrunner. As a partner of the Lead Paint Alliance – part of the World Health Organization – we fully support their goal for all countries to have effective   laws in place to eliminate the use of lead compounds by 2020. Stricter legislation is needed because currently, only 36% of countries have legally binding controls on the use of lead compounds in paint.

It’s an unfortunate situation to say the least, because safer and cost-effective lead-free additives have been widely used by the coatings industry for many years. The main area of concern is in developing regions, where there are no laws controlling the use of lead compounds in paints. These products are  still applied to residential dwellings and public buildings, which potentially puts children at great risk to being exposed to their harmful effects. Even in developed countries –  where household uses are forbidden – industrial use of paints containing lead compounds continues. There is no need or justification for this.

All of this is about to be put in the spotlight as part of International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (October 21 to 27), which is designed to raise awareness of the issue. The over-arching objective is to promote the phasing out of all paints containing lead pigments and driers and eliminate the risks these products cause. We phased out the use of all lead pigments and driers from our products many years ago. Through our partnership with the Lead Paint Alliance, we are also supporting their work by sharing experiences of conversion from lead to lead-free products and providing technical advice.

We consider product safety to be a key element of sustainability and are committed to delivering safer and more sustainable products for everyone. Use of pigments and driers based on lead compounds in paint is not compatible with this commitment. We also take action to manage harmful substances in advance of new laws, future-proofing our products against changes in regulations. Which is exactly what we did with lead compounds.

It’s worth noting that the automotive industry removed lead additives from petrol several years ago, with clear benefits to human health and the environment – it is now the turn of the paint industry to take it out of all paints. Think about it next time you go to the store to buy some paint.