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QUESTION: As I see it the problem in South Africa is Lead ON Paint and not Lead IN Paint? 06/07/09 KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

In South Africa there is a faction which seems to blame all the problems caused by Lead in Paint and this, in my opinion, is dangerous as the real causes are not being highlighted and no action is being taken. As I see it the problem is Lead ON Paint and not Lead IN Paint. Your site seems to be the best I have found so far and I am putting links on several sites with which I am involved and will circulate a link to everyone I can.

As a matter of interest how many tons of lead have been spewed into the atmosphere in the last 100 years as that I guess covers the essential period.

Les Fisher

ANSWER: Jul 10 2009

Dear Les,

thanks for your thought-provoking email.

If you could email me any of the writings of the "faction which seems to blame all the problems caused by Lead in Paint", then I could make more specific comments on what they say.

It usually is dangerous to blame ALL the problems caused by lead on just one source of lead, because, as you say, it may lead to lack of action on other lead problems. However, in the scheme of things, in my view, once you have eliminated lead in petrol as an ongoing source of lead being added to the environment, then, unless you have point sources in your area (such as lead mines, smelters, manufacturing or recycling plants), then the usual next most important source of concern is paint. Of course there are exceptions to this, in countries which may not use a lot of paint for instance, and in which special lead sources abound (poorly fired ceramicware, leaded cosmetics, folk medicines, lead toys, lead contaminated soil or food or water or air due to past uses of lead, etc). But generally speaking, now that leaded petrol is eliminated in South Africa, the first thing you should ask your health minister to do is a blood lead study in which all cases of elevated blood lead are followed up to determine the sources of lead for those children or adults, by isotopic fingerprinting.

You are welcome to refer your health minister to the Model National Public Health Policy on the Prevention of Lead Poisoning on our website  - because it points out the steps to take following the national blood lead study, and also the importance of testing iron, zinc and iodine in the same study. There is no need to estimate the number of South African pregnant women and children suffering from iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) - the estimate has already been done (see below), but the importance of determining the levels of lead and iron (and zinc and iodine) in individuals is that, once the correlation between iron deficiency and lead poisoning is confirmed, education of doctors and parents about iron and other vital nutrients can become part of the lead poisoning prevention strategy.

According to "Estimating the burden of disease attributable to iron deficiency anaemia in South Africa in 2000,. By Nojilana B, Norman R, Dhansay A, Labadarios D, Van Stuijvenberg ME, Bradshaw D and the South African Comparative Risk Assessment Collaborating Group. S Afr Med J 2007; 97: 741-746." at :

"It is estimated that 5.1% of children and 9 - 12% of pregnant women had IDA and that about 7.3% of perinatal deaths and 4.9% of maternal deaths were attributed to IDA in 2000. Overall, about 174 976 (95% uncertainty interval 150 344 - 203 961) healthy years of life lost (YLLs), or between 0.9% and 1.3% of all DALYs in South Africa in 2000, were attributable to IDA."

The IFCS [Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety] Secretariat of the World Health Organisation emailed an article just this week, to all of the co-sponsors (like us) of the Global Partnership for Phasing Out Use of Lead in Paints. The article is called "Childhood Lead Poisoning: Conservative Estimates of the Social and Economic Benefits of Lead Hazard Control. By Elise Gould. Environ Health Perspect. 2009 July; 117(7): 11621167. Published online 2009 March 31. at" and basically concludes that the cost of removing lead paint hazards from a child's environment are FAR outweighed by the monetary benefits to the child and to society ever after.

I would be very happy if you could write back to tell me more about your situation so that I may offer further information and possibly some referrals. It seems that we both have an interest in eliminating lead poisoning so I'd be keen to work with you on this objective.


Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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