Local paints industry representative organisation the South African Paint Manufacturers Association (Sapma) will meet with the Department of Health (DoH) this month to propose that the South African paints industry aligns itself with US and UK legislation regarding lead-containing paints, says Sapma director Deryck Spence.
Sapma and the DoH will discuss whether lead-containing paints should be eliminated entirely from the market or whether restrictions should be imposed on their manufacturing. Such restrictions might require manufacturers to apply for a licence to use lead in the manufacture of paints.
Spence tells Engineering News that there are about 280 to 300 paint manufacturers in South Africa. Of these, ten large-scale and prominent manufacturers produce up to 70% of the country’s paint.
He highlights, however, that these large manufacturers have “all but ceased” to use lead in the manufacture of paints.
“The paints industry has, therefore, spearheaded the call to remove lead from paint,” he argues.
The successful removal of lead from most paint products makes paint products increasingly environment friendly and safe to use.
Spence tells Engineering News that, from about 2002, Sapma and the local paint manufacturers industry received numerous requests from health professionals and other concerned parties and individuals to remove lead from high-pigment paints, as the substance is deemed toxic.
However, he adds that, even when lead was used to manufacture pigmented paints, including brightly coloured enamel paints, the amount of lead was insignificant.
Spence notes that some paint manufacturers started removing lead from their products from as early as the 1970s and that, currently, only a small percentage of paint manufacturers still use lead in South Africa. He adds that most paint manufacturers that still use lead are small-scale operations that supply to specialist markets.
Spence explains that legislation – the Hazardous Substances Act of 1973 – aimed at the commercial market, stipulated that children could not buy paint containing lead.
However, the legislation fell short of being effected on the industrial market for various reasons, including the implication that paint containing lead used in industrial applications is less likely to reach children.
However, problems arose in some industrial applications, whereby paint that possibly contained lead was used in applications that did involve children. For example, Spence explains that a manufacturer of children’s playground equipment might be regarded as an industrial client and might, therefore, unknowingly use lead- containing paint in its products. Subsequently, these products would come into direct contact with children and could potentially pose a contamination risk.
As a result, Sapma conducted an investigation in 2014 to determine what percentage of paints avail- able on the market contained lead and if there was a risk that individuals could contract lead poisoning through contact with such paints.
The study indicated that oil-based enamel paints might contain lead. However, the majority – 80% – of enamel paints are white. White paints do not contain any pigments and, therefore, do not contain lead.
“It turns out that the possibility of paint being produced in South Africa containing lead is about 0.046% of the country’s total paint production,” he says, adding that Sapma is, however, still campaigning to entirely eliminate the use of lead in all paints.
Dangers of Methanol
Spence highlights the increasing use in industry of methanol in lacquer thinners as another issue that has come to the fore.
He explains that methanol is highly poisonous and that its cheap price justifies its prolonged use over replacements, including various less-toxic solvents, in the paints industry.
“Methanol is about R4/ℓ, compared with an equivalent solvent which is about R12/ℓ,” he says, adding that methanol use has increased by as much as 40%.
Sapma’s concern is that there are not sufficient safety and warning labels on the containers in which methanol is distributed and sold. “What if a child drinks methanol from an innocuous bottle he or she might find in a garage?” Spence notes that, if a child drinks methanol, they would probably die as “methanol is that poisonous”.
Compounding the dangers of methanol are intoxication diag- nosis issues, as symptoms of methanol intoxication are similar to those associated with alcohol poisoning. “It has even been suggested that methanol is even more dangerous in a diluted form,” says Spence.
Spence, who is part of the National Committee on Chemicals Management, has tabled the suggestion that methanol be included on the DoH’s hazardous substances list, which might take several years to achieve.