The Lead Issue and the U. S. Paint Industry
The efforts to curb environmental lead exposures in the United States have been an American public health success story. The removal of lead from a variety of products and control of certain pathways of exposure has resulted in greatly reduced incidence of lead poisoning in the general population. Despite this positive change, continued diligence is necessary to address new health risks, in particular for children's exposure to lead, which remains one of our nation's most serious pediatric health priorities. Recognition of the need to control environmental lead exposures is not new to the U.S. paint and coatings industry, which voluntarily reduced its use of lead pigments in consumer paints over 50 years ago, according to a consensus standard endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This standard became the baseline for the federal law which led to the effective ban of lead added to consumer paints in 1978, a law actively supported by the paint industry. Like many other industries that used lead in their products, the paint industry found substitutes that were safe and effective.
The American Coatings Association and its members firmly supported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) continuing "Health People" program and its national goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning. ACA believes that it is a health problem which can be eliminated altogether with the right attention, dedication of resources, and cooperation by public agencies with their private counterparts. The U.S. paint industry has considerable experience in formulating products without the use of lead compounds, something yet to be embraced universally by foreign manufacturers, and stands ready to reliably supply safe, lead-free, conforming coatings to meet emerging product safety standards. And to address the problem of childhood lead exposure from old, deteriorated paint in housing, ACA and its members have a long history of cooperative and collaborative efforts including:
- Widespread distribution of key information brochures (English/Spanish) to hospitals, public health clinics and lead-poisoning prevention programs beginning in the early 1960's;
- Formation in the early 1990's of the Community Lead Education and Reduction Corps (CLEARCorps USA), an award-winning landmark private-public partnership now providing lead hazard reduction support services across the U.S.;
- Sponsorship of the four-year (2004-2007) voluntary cooperative National Lead-Safe Work Practices Training Program (English/Spanish), which trained over 17,000 contractors, code officials, facility managers, landlords, homeowners, and childrens' health advocates on lead-safe work practices (using a HUD;EPA-approved protocol) at 700 tuition free courses in all 50 states and D.C.;
- Over 600 million gallons (annually) of consumer paints labeled with a specified surface preparation statement to avoid hazards should old lead paint be involved, and providing the EPA Lead Information Hotline;
- Over 5 million combined EPA brochures on lead safety for consumers, printed in English and Spanish, distributed at tens of thousands of paint outlets throughout the United States; and
- Advocating state and local model legislation, building on existing model laws in states achieving the best results in the nation towards childhood lead poisoning elimination, which, among other successful provisions, incorporates incentives for those carrying specified duties of care (e.g., landlords) to fulfill them rigorously.
Currently, efforts to reduce environmental lead exposures from paint have shifted to engage renovation and remodeling professionals, requiring specialized training in lead-safe work practices, and contractor distribution of EPA information brochures to homeowners before commencing work in pre-1978 structures.
The EPA and HUD brochures, Don't Spread Lead and Renovate Right are available for download in both English and Spanish.