SAMRC supports global ban on lead in paint

Johannesburg | The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has reiterated its support for the global ban on lead in paint in the build-up to this year’s International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week taking place from the 20th to 26th October 2019. 

Lead is toxic to virtually all organs, including the central nervous system and brain, the reproductive system, the kidneys, the cardiovascular system, the blood and general immune system. The substance is especially dangerous to children’s developing brains, and can cause reduced intelligence (lowered IQ scores) and attention spans, impaired learning ability, and an increased risk in behavioral problems. These health impacts also have significant economic costs to countries. Health economists also estimate that lead exposure costs the South African economy around USD 17.7 billion (roughly R 260 billion) annually. 

Researchers at the SAMRC say that it is significantly more cost-effective to ban new sources of lead paint than to remediate contaminated homes, schools and playgrounds and that the manufacture of paint without added lead does not involve a significant additional cost, and alternative ingredients are available.

In 2007 SAMRC investigators, led by the Council’s Environment & Health Research Unit Director Prof Angela Mathee, discovered a first grade leaner with an exceptionally high blood lead level - the source of which was identified to be lead in paint. As a result, a regulation was promulgated to control the amount of lead added to paint in South Africa, making our country the first on the African continent to do so.

“Lead is harmful to health, no matter how low the level in the blood and every effort should be made to eliminate it from all paint manufactured and imported into South Africa,” says Prof Angela Mathee. “We now need to join the international movement to strengthen our lead paint regulations by lowering the maximum permissible level of lead in paint in South Africa to 90 ppm and ensuring that the legislation applies to all paint manufactured and sold in our country,” she adds.

Mathee states that while SAMRC surveys show that South African children’s blood lead levels have been declining, and more South African paint manufacturers have already committed to stop adding lead to their paints, more needs to be done to eliminate all sources of childhood exposure to various sources of lead.

“The SAMRC commends the National Department of Health on its current efforts to strengthen South Africa’s lead paint regulations, and encourages all stakeholders involved to take all possible measures to ensure full compliance,” says SAMRC President & CEO Prof Glenda Gray.


For further sources of information:

  1. International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week 2019 resource package. Geneva: World Health Organization/United Nations Environment Programme; 2019. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
  2. Attina, T.M. and Trasande, L., 2013. Economic costs of childhood lead exposure in low-and middle-income countriesEnvironmental health perspectives121(9), pp.1097-1102.
  3. Mathee, A., 2014. Towards the prevention of lead exposure in South Africa: contemporary and emerging challengesNeurotoxicology45, pp.220-223.

Poster for the ban lead paint campaign

For interview requests contact:
Prof Angela Mathee
Environment & Health Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council
Office telephone: +27 12 339 8539
Mobile telephone: +27 82 464 7038.

Release date: 
Thursday, October 17, 2019 - 11:26
Keletso Ratsela
Contact: Keletso Ratsela

Media Strategist
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