Exploring health dangers from the ‘four walls’


When the fourth phase regime threw its weight into waging a special campaign to phase out toxic lead from fuel, majority of Tanzanians thought they were now free from the hazardous chemical element.

The success story of the campaign is today manifested by the absence of leaded fuel in all petrol stations. Though some fuel stations do not mark their pumps with the word ‘Unleaded’, it is understandable that no oil dealer today sells fuel (Diesel and Petrol) that contains lead.

In 2011,the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)announced success in the global campaign to phase out lead from fuel. Records show that by 2011, toxic lead had been removed from fuel in more than 175 countries worldwide – representing nearglobal eradication.

As Tanzanians celebrated such an achievement, little did they know that they were living with the dangerous metallic element within the four walls of their houses, children being the most affected.

These health risks are posed by the chemical element (lead) when it is mixed with paint- the material used to decorate buildings, including residential houses.

Studies that have been conducted several times by a Non-governmental organisation- AGENDA- have established that Tanzania, one of the developing countries, is still far from phasing out lead in paint production.

Last weekend, the NGO released its second report on the study it conducted on the status of lead in paints in the country; with findings revealing that the situation was not encouraging.

According to the report, the NGO bought 46 cans of solvent- based paints intended for home use from Arusha, Dar es Salaam and Mwanza for lead analysis, representing 12 different brands produced by 12 manufacturers.

Five brands were imported from other countries. After analysis, the report states, 21 of 46 paints, equivalent to 46 per cent , were found to contain lead concentration above the required limit, which is 90 parts per million ( 90 ppm).

Ninety parts per million (90 ppm) is a regulatory limit for lead in decorative paints in countries such as India, Philippines and the UnitedStates. In the same analysis, it was learnt that 10 paints, equivalent to 22 per cent, contained dangerously high lead concentration, which is above 10,000 million per parts (10,000 ppm).

Two paints, according to the findings, contained the highest lead concentration, which is 84,000 parts per million (84,000 ppm). The report reveals further that10 out 12 analysed brands were selling at least one paint with lead concentration above the regulatory limit- 90ppm while seven out 12 analysed brands had at least a paint with dangerously high lead concentration above 10,000 ppm.

The report also provided the public with a sigh of relief as it was also detected that some paints contained lead concentration below the regulatory limit of 90ppm, indicating that the technology to produce paint with lead ingredients was available in the country.

To bring about reliability in the results, the paints bought were analysed by an accredited laboratory in the United States. The laboratory participates in the Environmental Lead Proficiency Analytical Testing (ELPAT) programme operated by the American Industrial Hygiene Association ( AIHA).

Effects of lead on health ProfJamidu Katima, a chemical engineer by profession and AGENDA board chair, spoke on the health risks brought about by lead, saying the chemical element was extremely dangerous to children, childbearing mothers and environment.

He said exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child’s development and behavior. He said even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, chil dren may appear inattentive, hyperactive and irritable. Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, delayed growth and hearing loss.

“Children who have reached crawling stage and even those learning to walk tend to insert everything they touch in their mouths, becoming highly vulnerable to the health risks from paints with lead,” he insisted.

He said since it is a normal tendency for children to pick up things and insert into their mouths, it was also easier for them to pick up particles of paints when they peel off the wall and insert into the mouth.

“If we managed to phase out lead in petrol we can also manage to phase it out in paints. What is required is determination that will be backed up by regulatory framework,” Prof Katima said.

He added that customers wishing to buy paints for home use cannot identify those with low lead and those with high lead concentration simply because the cans of paintanalyseddid not carry meaning information about the levels of the toxic levels.

Warning scripts on cans used include; “Keep away from children, foodstuff and sources of ignition”, “highly inflammable”, “flammable liquids”, enamel paint”, “environmentally friendly” and “do not use this container for storing foodstuff”.

In all cans there were no precautionary warning on the effects of lead dust to children and pregnant women. In the report, it is stated that most highly industrialized countries, adopted laws or regulations to control lead content in decorative paints in1970s and 1980s.

Such control measures were also imposed on lead content on paints used in toys and other applications that could contribute to lead exposure to children.

European Union has completely prohibited the use of lead in production of decorative paint through regulations related to safety of consumer products and specific prohibitions for most leaded raw materials.

Scientists say lead compounds most commonly added to paints are pigments that are used to give paint its colour, enable the paint to cover well when applied and protect the paint and the un derlying surface from degradation caused by exposure to sunlight.

Lead compounds are sometimes added to paints used on metal surface to inhibit rust or corrosion. Hope is not lost Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) official who attended the occasion to launch the report informed participants that the bureau was finalising procedures to approve the national standard of lead levels in paints.

Mr Safari Fungo, an official responsible for standards at TBS, said there was a pressing need to come up with a regulatory framework to ensure people’s health and environment were protected.

“Apart from ensuring that people’s health, especially children are protected from the effects of lead in paints, the products that will be produced by observing the standard prescribed will be able to compete in the East African market,” he said.

According to Mr Fungo, the adoption of standards of lead content in paints was guided by the procedure as indicated in the principles and procedures for the development of East African Standards.

As a result, he said the Bureau has adopted all paints harmonized standards for East Africa region and has approved other 20 standards in the paint industry. He told participants thatthe approved standards were due for gazetting by the Minister of Industries and Trade.

He said after the gazzeting of the approved standards on lead by the minister pre-implementation workshops were likely to be conducted, including disseminating information through different modes. LOCAL

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