Millions of children in Zimbabwe are at risk of lead poisoning, which can cause permanent damage to brain development, due to the widespread use of paints containing dangerously high levels of the toxic metal, according to a joint study by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and the World Health Organization. The Lead Exposure Elimination Project (LEEP) has been unveiled.

According to the study, more than 55% of oil paint brands sampled in Harare contained lead levels that exceed WHO recommendations.

In some cases, levels exceeded 1,000 times the safe limit.

Lead is a chemical element often used as an ingredient in the manufacture of oil-based paints and batteries.

It is used in paints to speed up the drying process, increase durability, maintain a new appearance, and resist corrosive moisture.

However, exposure to lead, especially in children, can cause permanent damage to brain development, leading to lower educational attainment and reduced future potential.

Additionally, long-term exposure can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems.

The study estimates that lead poisoning from paint and other sources costs the country $298 million annually.

“EMA and LEEP research found dangerous levels of lead in five major paint brands and 29 smaller brands,” the report states.

“Both oil-based house paints as well as spray paints have been found to be toxic. The most harmful paints were typically yellow and red colors.

EMA Director-General Aaron Shigona said paint manufacturers must immediately remove lead ingredients from their products.

“The data contained in this preliminary study provide clear evidence of this important issue,” he said. “We strongly urge manufacturers to remove lead components from paint immediately.

“LEEP provides free support to manufacturers to help them with this process and the EMA encourages the industry to accept this offer.” He said the EMA is in the process of drafting new regulations to enforce the removal of lead from paints.

“The European Medicines Agency will take steps to regulate lead in oil paint and create a country free from the harms of exposure to lead paint.”

Dr Clare Donaldson, co-executive director of LEEP, said her organization was pleased to support the government’s efforts to regulate the paint industry.

“We applaud the EMA’s initiative in conducting this important study and look forward to supporting the Zimbabwean government’s efforts to regulate lead paint,” she said.

“As more manufacturers around the world switch to lead-free paint, we encourage industry partners in Zimbabwe to accept LEEP’s offer of free support.

“We provide free technical assistance to industry partners looking to remove lead from their paint and solve this critical problem together.”

WHO Representative in Zimbabwe, Professor Jean-Marie Dango, said that by addressing the issue of lead poisoning in Zimbabwe, the government can protect the health of its citizens and promote sustainable economic development.

“The World Health Organization recognizes the economic impact of lead poisoning, which includes increased health care costs, lost productivity, and reduced economic growth,” he said.

“The World Health Organization urges the Government of Zimbabwe to review paint production processes with a view to reducing lead content below the WHO recommended limit.

“It is important that we take intentional steps to protect our children from the devastating effects of lead poisoning.” Sunday mail

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