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New Study Shows Reduction in Lead Paint Levels in Malawi

LEEP conducted the research in collaboration with the Malawi Bureau of Standards LEEP conducted the research in collaboration with the Malawi Bureau of Standards - pic courtesy of LEEP

Findings of a new research indicate there is a reduction in the levels of lead in paints on the market in Malawi, which researchers say, suggests more children will now be safe from the hazardous substance.

The findings by Lead Exposure Elimination Project, however, say continued action is needed to completely eradicate lead in all brands of paints in Malawi.

LEEP conducted the research in collaboration with the Malawi Bureau of Standards.

The 2023 study found that there has been progress in efforts to end lead poisoning from paint in Malawi as compared to paints that were sampled on the market in previous studies, declining from 53% to 33%.

“However, there were still five brands identified with high levels of lead. The Malawi Bureau of Standards has called on the remaining lead paint manufacturers to urgently remove lead from their products,” says a statement issued this week.

“Having strengthened its testing capacity, the Malawi Bureau of Standards is now in a strong position to ensure compliance with mandatory standards prohibiting lead in paint. The reduction of lead in paint shown by this study demonstrates that progress is possible.

“We urge the remaining manufacturers to immediately remove lead-containing raw materials from their paint to comply with mandatory standards and protect the population from harm,” says Dr Bernard Thole, Director General of the Malawi Bureau of Standards.

A spokesperson for Rainbow Paints, said as a leading brand in Malawi, with around 45% of market share, the company is delighted to have switched to lead-free products, saying eradicating lead from paint is technically and commercially feasible, and our customers appreciate our commitment to health and the environment.

According to the study, high levels of lead were not found in three paint brands sampled which were labelled as Rainbow and another three labeled as Plascon.

Paint products from Crown manufactured by Valmore Paints Ltd; Monolux manufactured by Monolux Paints Ltd; Medal manufactured by Rainbow Paints Ltd, Coral manufactured by Insignia Africa Ltd, and Tropical manufactured by OG Paints Ltd were found to have high levels of lead in some cases.

A spokesperson for Monolux Paints said “At Monolux, we’re taking a significant step towards a healthier and safer environment. We’re currently in the process of transitioning to lead-free formulations in our paints, and we anticipate introducing these eco-friendly alternatives by early-2024.”

Simillar sentiments were made by Valmore Paints, which according to the study, is in the process of reformulating their paint to remove lead ingredients and expect to have lead-free products on the market by mid-2024.

Dr Lucia Coulter, Co-Executive Director of LEEP, says, “The Malawi Bureau of Standards and paint industry leaders have made meaningful progress on this important issue. Their work will protect Malawi’s children, improve educational outcomes and contribute to the UN sustainable development goals.

“We look forward to continuing to support testing and monitoring efforts and will continue to offer no-cost technical support to any remaining manufacturers who would like assistance in removing lead from their paint.”

Lead exposure has severe negative health impacts, particularly on children, including permanent damage to their cognitive development, worsening their educational outcomes and future potential, and later life, lead exposure may causes hypertension and heart disease.

LEEP says lead poisoning from paint and from other sources is estimated to affect 3.4 million children in Malawi, costing the country $878 million in lost earnings every year.

The Malawi Bureau of Standards is said to have taken swift action by building testing capacity in its new laboratory complex, strengthening auditing processes, and taking steps to update the standards to limit lead in paint after a finding of high levels of lead in Malawi’s paint in 2021.

Malawi is now listed in the WHO observatory as one of 94 countries globally, and one of only 10 countries in Africa, with controls on lead in paint.

The release of the results has been described as a positive development coming in coincidence with the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

This year, the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is being observed from October 22 to 29 to increase awareness about lead poisoning so families can reduce children's exposure to lead and prevent its serious health effects.

(Additional reporting by George Kalungwe)

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