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UNEP: New guidelines to support SMEs to phase out lead from paint manufacturing

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Paint reformulation is entirely possible, and the industry can produce paint without added lead. However, a lack of technical knowledge; a lack of awareness of the health and environmental hazard of lead and where to source lead-free alternatives, as well as a shortage of lead paint laws in the countries where they are based mean many small manufacturers around the world are still producing hazardous lead paint. Newly released Lead Paint Reformulation Technical Guidelines aim to ensure small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are part of the effort to reformulate paint and eliminate lead in paint permanently.

Lead paint is still used around the world for decoration in homes and schools, road marking, glazes or for its anticorrosive properties. To date, 84 countries have regulations in place and the regional disparities are quite marked: 81% of countries in Europe and 100% in North America have legal limits on lead in place, compared to only 13% in Africa, 31% in Asia Pacific and 42% in Latin America and the Caribbean. As 58 % of the market share of the global paint market is composed of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), it is important to ensure that they are key players in the reformulation effort.

The guidelines, developed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and guided by the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, provide a comprehensive starting point for all stakeholders to learn more about paint reformulation and best practices. They offer general information on processes and provide a step-by-step approach to reformulation, indicating where to find relevant information such as alternative raw materials and additional details such as standards for testing and in-depth case studies. The guidelines were made possible under a global project funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) Secretariat.

The usefulness of the guidelines has already been demonstrated. Today, in the project context, 22 SMEs in Nigeria, Jordan, Peru, China, Ecuador and Colombia have completed pilot demonstrations by using the document and applying its guidance. This highlights the practicability of reformulation stated in the guidelines. “Having the technical guideline to support the reformulation process was really helpful, said the Assistant General Manager of one SME in China. It helped us identify the alternative to reduce the lead content in paint and basically meet the functional requirements of the product”.

Through the publication it is expected that more and more SMEs will also start the process of phasing out lead from their paint production

“As the paint market is expected to continue to expand following the growing trend in construction and housing, the use of paint will also increase globally, including lead paint, unless concrete action is taken. But, reinforced by the pilot demonstrations using the guidelines, we highlighted that paint manufacturers across the globe were able to demonstrate the feasibility of eliminating lead compounds, and that technical and cost impacts are manageable. These guidelines can support the global effort to ban lead paint from paint production.” said Monika MacDevette, Chief, Chemicals and Health Branch within UNEP.

The work towards eliminating lead in paint builds on the recent global phase-out of leaded petrol and is one of the actions taken by UNEP to stop pollution from other sources of lead, including batteries and leaded ammunitions.

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