Saturday, January 3, 2015

Dangers of lead paints and situation in Pakistan (Karachi)

Recently while reading Dr.Spock's Baby and Childcare in India, I came to realize the dangers and gravity of the existence of lead in our paints. Not that I haven't heard about it before. My 9 month old had been scratching the walls for a few days and my mother had already forewarned me a quite a while ago about the danger. But it was only when I read it myself that the extent of the risk lead posed became clear to me.
Increased lead levels in children can lead to brain damage, anemia and several other dangers such poor mental development, hyperactivity, etc.
A major source of lead in houses is crumbling paint on inside walls, windows and other places in the house. As this paint falls, it becomes part of the dust on the ground. As babies and toddlers crawl, it is no wonder they end up consuming this lead via the fingers. Some countries have banned the use of lead like USA. Dr.Spocks also recommended to get the paint removed professionally and not by a scraper. (I was wondering what could be more professional since I have always seen painters remove the paint with the scraper and nothing else. Ah, could be a developed world thing but I certainly know no better).
This led me to search for lead-free paints in Pakistan. But before I go on to share my findings, I was particularly alarmed by this study in Dawn newspaper which analysed paint samples in local markets:

  • United States has restricted the use of lead in paints by bringing the permissible limit down to 90 parts per million (total lead in paint) from 600ppm (600mg/kg) last year.
  • Consumer paints in Pakistan are not included in the list of 78 products that require compulsory certification and regular monitoring by the Pakistan Standards Quality Control Authority (PSQCA),
  • PSQCA, though, provides specifications (last revised in 1997) for 'lead-free paints', if required (300mg/kg).
  • Three samples out of 15, including six samples of distemper, had very high concentrations of lead, ranging from 784.46 mg/kg to 195,139mg/kg. Other samples had lead concentration between 19.63mg/kg and 505.6mg/kg.
  • 1 sample of lead-free matte-finish was tested to be free from lead, while another had lead concentration of 37.9 mg/kg. A sample of lime (chuna) had 172.31mg/kg lead.
  • According to the researchers, the amount of presence lead present in a paint is directly proportional to the fastness of the color. ie A chuna or distemper is going to contain the least amount of lead in it.
  • One study found that approximately 73 per cent of residential paint brands tested from 12 countries representing 46 per cent of the world's population exceeded the US standard of 600ppm for lead in paint. In addition, 69 percent of the brands had at least one sample exceeding 10,000ppm. High lead paints were detected in all countries.
  • Lead most severely affects children less than 6 months old.

It seems there is no straight-forward way of finding out lead-free products in Pakistan. I looked online and has Berger Pakistan mentioned on one product product without lead but no guarantee on its website that it has completely removed lead from its formulations (like Berger India). Whats worse, the  leading paint manufacturers appear to have double standards with hugely varying lead content in different countries. In India one sample contained 17,000 ppm (way over the safety limit) but a similar sample in Bangladesh was found to have 212000 ppm in Nepal! (Source)

I was glad to see Rainbow paints mention that there water-based emulsions have no lead

in them (It could mean acceptable limits) but there wasn't much else to write home about.
I would admit that I haven't yet paid a visit to market and scan all the brands (Gobis) for instance and insist on lead free paints. However, in the absence of a clue on the paint bucket like a lead-free seal, I really doubt a paint retailer would know what I am talking about. A key place to know more about be Paint manufacturers themselves or the research of the study in the references below. Till then, I would keep my paint from crumbling and renew paint at least once a year and go for a distemper or chuna like paint to insure that lead is minimal in paint and the paint doesn't start to whither or crumble.
If someone can update me or has something else to share on the matter, I would be happy to hear! Let us all request PSQCA for a more stringent approach to consumer paints.

1. Baby and Childcare in India by Dr. Benjamin Flock, Dr.Abdullah Ghori and Dr.Robert Needlman

2. Lead-based consumer paints posing health risk, Newspaper Article in Daily Dawn:

3. Berger Pakistan:  Damp and Thinner

4. Indian paint manufacturers have toxic double standards

5. Rainbow Paint Industries: Corporate Social Responsibilty


  1. Dear Omar,

    Thank you for this invaluable information !

    I myself being a father, and in the process of getting our house painted, was wondering if there was any information as to what is safe.

    Would it be possible to share which brands tested were actually lead -free, or within acceptable limits, please...

    Sincere thanks...

    1. Dear Saqib,
      Sorry for a late response but hope this is. I couldn't find a brand myself though Rainbow or Berger Pakistan have mentioned Lead-free paints. You should contact their representatives on more information. As for myself, I opted for a distemper (Chuna like) paint from Nelson.

  2. Dear Mr. Omar,

    All Products of Rainbow Paint's entire Decorative Range are completely lead free. Rainbow is the first paint manufacturer to achieve this accomplishment.

    To enlighten you further, lead is used as an additive (dryer) for enamel paints. Rainbow's formulation are free from any kind of lead additives.


    Rainbow Paints

  3. Glad to know this. I will definitely consider Rainbow and learn more about its products when I repaint my home in future.