Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 9 February 2014





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Leaded household paints: Children most at risk

With the reopening of schools last month, teachers, parents, well wishers and even senior students are currently engaged in the task of colour-washing walls, ceilings, desks, tables and doors to create a pleasing classroom environment for their students.

What many of them don't know is that more than fifty percent of the paints they use have a much higher level of lead content that what is actually permitted by the World Health Organisation and the Consumer Affairs Authority in Sri Lanka.

“Such paints can be especially injurious to children”, warns the Head of the Toxicology Unit at the National Hospital Dr Waruna Gunathilake who told the Sunday Observer that just inhaling the paints while inside their classrooms for the better part of the day, children, especially very young children in pre-schools and primary schools (i.e. from Grades 1-5) can develop serious health problems due to exposure to their toxic fumes.


Q. According to you, most indoor paints in the local market have excessive lead content. How do you know this? Has there been a study on the subject?

A. A study was initiated on this subject by the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) on ‘Lead content in Asian paints'. It revealed that over 50 percent of samples tested exceeded the permitted levels.

Q. What is the present minimum level given by the CAA?

A. The minimum level by the CAA is even less than the international level. It is 600 parts per million (ppm). However, most of the samples tested showed a shocking high level of lead content varying from 1,000 ppm to as much as 100,000 ppm.

Q. Was this lead content introduced intentionally? If so why? What are the compounds used?

A. Paint manufacturers add lead content to paints for various reasons eg. as drying agents and catacypigments or to give a more even finish and the pigments produces bright colours. Lead compounds commonly used as paint pigments include lead chromates, lead oxides, lead molybates and lead sulfates.

They are added to produce bright colours like yellow, red and green. Lead in enamel paints are used on metal surfaces because they inhibit rust and corrosion. The most common of them is lead tetroxide, sometimes called red lead.

Q. So are there other paints that have less lead content in the local market?

A. Yes. The same study by the CEJ showed that 37 percent of the samples tested contained very low levels of below 90ppm. That proves that technology to produce unleaded paint is widely available in this country. You just have to look out for them.

Q. What are the health implications in general?

A. Excessive lead exposure can aggravate respiratory conditions in people with asthma and bronchitis. Long exposure can lead to other serious illnesses. But children are the most vulnerable victims of such exposure.

Q. Why?

A. Children are not generally exposed to lead from paint while the paint is still in the can or even when the paint is being newly applied to a previously unpainted or uncoated surface. Rather, the lead exposure generally occurs after the lead paint has already dried on the wall or on the painted surfaces that age, weather, and chip with time.

Any lead that is in the paint then enters indoor and outdoor dusts and soil in and around the painted home or building.

Children have an innate curiosity to explore their world and engage in developmentally appropriate hand- to mouth behaviour.

When playing in lead contaminated environments, the dust and soil that they ingest will carry lead. This is especially true for children in the six years and under age group, the group most easily harmed by exposure to lead. For example, a typical one to six year old child ingests approximately 100 milligrams of house dust and soil each day.

Q. How does that happen?

A. Paint chips can be especially harmful since their lead content can be much higher than what is typically found in dust and soils. In some cases, children may pick up paint chips and put them into their mouth. In addition, when toys or other articles are painted with lead paint, children may chew on them and directly ingest the lead - contaminated dried paint.


Exposure to lead is much more harmful to children than adults, and the health effects are generally irreversible and can have a lifelong impact.

The younger the child, the more harmful lead can be. The human foetus is the most vulnerable, and a pregnant woman can transfer lead that has accumulated in her body to that of her developing child.

That means that lead can poison several generations, and not only one person during active exposure.

Q. Why are children more susceptible to lead than adults? How does early exposure harm them?

A. Children are biologically susceptible to lead than adults for several reasons: A child's brain undergoes very rapid growth development and differentiation and lead interferes with this process. Brain damage caused by chronic, low-level exposure to lead during early years is irreversible and untreatable.

Exposure to lead early in life can re-program genes, which can lead to altered gene expression and an associated increased risk of disease later in life. Gastrointestinal absorption of lead is enhanced in childhood. Up to 50 percent of ingested lead is absorbed by children, as compared with 10 percent in adults.

In the case of children who suffer from nutritional deficiencies, ingested lead is absorbed even more rapidly. Children with excessive lead can also become hyperactive and unable to concentrate for long.

Evidence of reduced intelligence caused by childhood exposure to lead has led the WHO to list lead caused mental retardation as a recognised disease.

WHO also lists it as one of the top ten diseases whose health burden among children can be easily prevented.

Q. Are there other vulnerable victims aprt from children?

A. Pregnant women may also absorb more ingested lead than other adults.

Q. Your comments on leaded paints in general?

A. Good, cost-effective substitutes for all the lead compounds that are used in making household paints have been widely available and in use in the industrialised countries since the 1980's and before.

Any paint manufacturer that currently produces household paints with added lead compounds could easily reformulate its paints using these substitutes with very little (if any) impact on the characteristics of the paints they produce or on the price.

Thus there is no good reason for a paint manufacturer to continue producing paints with added lead compounds, especially since the childhood health hazards associated with lead paint are very serious.

Q. Advice to parents?

A. All parents must make sure that whatever paints they use inside their homes have either no lead or the minimum of lead. As I said there are plenty of paints without lead. You have only to look out for them. When you buy a toy for your child, make sure it is not one that has been painted. A young child who puts a leaded toy to his mouth is at risk of lead poisoning. Mothers who re-paint an old cradle or cot must cover the entire chipped surface with unleaded paint to prevent chip dust.

If you must re-paint the cot, then stick to white paint and don't use bright colours which have higher lead.

Q. Any advice for the general public?

A. When you visit a supermarket or paint store, buy only paints that have the newest SLS label (after 2013). Check if the paints carry labels listing the amount of lead used.

If there are paints without any lead marked ‘Unleaded’ make those your first choice.

Buy only paints from reputed dealers and NOT from wholesale outlets where they can be diluted with lead.

Finally, if anyone in your family develops breathing difficulties following a recent painting of the indoors, contact us on our hotline; 2686143 or the general NHSL number 2961111.


[Preventing lead poisoning in children]

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead and treating children who have been poisoned by lead.

The goal is to prevent lead exposure to children before they are harmed. There are many ways parents can reduce a child's exposure to lead. The most important is stopping children from coming into contact with lead. Lead hazards in a child's environment must be identified and controlled or removed safely.


British birth rate leaps by 18 pc in a decade

British women are having significantly more children than a decade ago, with birth rates for mothers in England and Wales up by 18 percent, official figures show. Improvements in fertility treatments allowing people to start families later and a growing population of second generation migrants are amongst possible explanations for the rise.

Women born in Britain now give birth to more children

More than a quarter of babies born in England and Wales are also now from mothers who arrived in Britain from other countries, according to an analysis of the latest census.

There were 724,000 births in 2011 - of which 26 percent, 185,000, were to mothers themselves born abroad. At the last census in 2001, just 16 percent of births were to foreign-born mothers.Women born in Britain now give birth to more children, according to the UK's total fertility rate (TFR), which is the average number of children a woman is expected to give birth to in her lifetime. It has risen from an average of 1.56 children to 1.84 in a decade.

The picture is similar in Scotland, where the population has increased by 233,000 - five percent - since the 2001 census. This represents the fastest growth rate between two Census years in the past century. The rising population in Scotland has also been driven by births, with 293,000 children aged under five in 2011, an increase of six percent from 2001.

Seven percent of people in Scotland said they were born outside the UK, an increase of three percentage points since 2001.

Mothers from Afghanistan had the highest average birth rate of 4.25, closely followed by those from Somalia, with 4.19 and Iraq with 3.91. A spokesman for the Office for National Statistics said that “strong cultural preferences” were likely to be behind the marked variation in birth rates amongst different nationalities.

Polish women were the most likely foreign-born mothers to give birth in England and Wales overall, producing 20,500 babies in 2011. However, the number of babies each had, on average, was 2.13 - lower than the average for foreign-born mothers living in England and Wales.

Women born in Romania and the Czech Republic had the highest TFRs of any EU country of birth (2.93 and 2.77 respectively). However, in 2011 these countries of birth accounted for only a relatively small number of births - 3,500 from Romanians and 1,600 from Czechs. Oliver Dorman, senior research officer at the Office for National Statistics, said he thought it was possible the rise in births amongst British born mothers was partly due to traditions of having larger families amongst second generation migrant families.

He said: “It's likely that second generation immigrants are a factor in this but we don't have ethnicity on birth registrations, so we don't have the data to show that. I suspect the larger proportion of births to non-UK born women will be contributing to the UK-born fertility rates too, because of second generation migrants [with cultural ties to their families’ country of origin].”

Dorman also believes women having babies later has contributed to the rise : “We've seen over the past 10 to 15 years gradual increases in older mothers. More and more mothers are having children at an older age. We're seeing the same number of births for women aged 25-35 but we're also seeing women having an additional birth later. These top up rather than replace younger births.”

Figures released last August show this rise in births continued after the 2011 census. Soaring numbers of babies born in the year to mid-2012 meant Britain's population rose by more than 400,000 in a single year - the largest increase of any European Union member state - putting the total at 63.7 million.

The Independent

‘Tidal wave of cancer’ will sweep the globe in next 20 years, warn WHO scientists

Immediate action is required to combat a ‘tidal wave of cancer’ that will sweep the globe in the next 20 years, scientists at the World Health Organisation have warned.

The number of new cancer cases worldwide in a single year will rise by 70 percent from 14.1 million in 2012 to 24 million in 2035, the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said in their latest World Cancer Report.

Cancer is becoming more preventable but less developed countries could see a rise in cases

The future global burden of cancer will increasingly shift to poorer countries, WHO said, but it added that half of all world cancers are now preventable with existing medical knowledge and expertise.

Annual deaths from cancer will almost double in the same time period from 8.2 million to 14.6 million. One of the report's editors, Dr Bernard Stewart from Australia, said that modifications to human behaviour, such as reducing alcohol consumption, would play a “crucial role in combating the tidal wave of cancer which we see coming across the world”.

“In relation to alcohol, for example, we're all aware of the acute effects, whether it's car accidents or assaults,” he said.

“But there's a burden of disease that's not talked about because it's simply not recognised, specifically involving cancer.

“The extent to which we modify the availability of alcohol, the labelling of alcohol, the promotion of alcohol and the price of alcohol - those things should be on the agenda.”

Less developed countries will see an increase in cancer incidence - the number of new cases per year - of 44 percent in the next decade, whereas in richer countries, incidence rates will only increase by 20 percent.

The inequalities are largely down to varying levels of access to both cancer treatments and preventative healthcare - such as screening programs and vaccines for cancers caused by infections like the human papilloma virus (HPV).

However, the gap between countries will widen as people in less developed nations increasingly adopt “industrialised lifestyles” - smoking and drinking more, and eating more highly processed food.

Dr Christopher Wild, said it was clear the world would never “treat its way out of cancer” and emphasised the role that prevention should play in years to come.

- The Independent


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