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Lead in enamel paint campaign, Sri Lanka

Decorative paints with high lead levels are still being sold in Sri Lanka even after the legislation passed by the Consumer Affairs Authority came into force at the beginning of 2013.


Thanks to a campaign conducted by the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) since 1st January 2013 Sri Lanka has mandatory standards for lead in decorative paint.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Lead in enamel paint campaign, Sri Lanka
Country:Sri Lanka
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Chemical industries
Manufacturing activities
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Lead
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

CEJ has conducted two major studies of lead in decorative paints sold in Sri Lanka. In 2010, CEJ, in collaboration with IPEN and the Indian NGO, Toxics Link, carried out a global scientific study Lead in New Decorative Paints. In that study, 69% of Sri Lankan decorative paints analysed were found to exceed the current standard of 600 ppm. The highest content of lead was 137,325 ppm, which is 228 times greater than the current Sri Lankan limit.

Type of populationUnknown
Start of the conflict:2000
Relevant government actors:The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA)
Sri Lanka Supreme Court
Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI)
International and Finance InstitutionsWorld Health Organization (WHO)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Centre for Environmental Justice
Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka
Toxics Link
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Referendum other local consultations
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Genetic contamination
Potential: Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths
Other Health impactsThe health impacts of long-term low level lead exposure in young children are lifelong, irreversible, and untreatable. Studies conducted over the last decades have shown harmful efects of lead at lower and lower blood lead levels, and no safe blood lead level in children has been identifed (Bellinger, 2008). As a result, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other authorities have concluded that there is no known acceptable blood lead exposure level for children (CDC, 2013). Evidence of reduced intelligence caused by childhood exposure to lead has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to list “lead caused mental retardation” as a recognized disease.
WHO also lists it as one of the top ten diseases whose health burden among children is due to modifable environmental factors (Prüss-Üstün and Corvalán, 2006).
Once lead enters a child’s body through ingestion or inhalation or across the placenta, it has the potential to damage a number of biological systems and pathways. The primary target is the central nervous system and the brain, but it can also afect the blood system, the kidneys and the skeleton.
Children are more sensitive to the harmful efects of lead than adults for several reasons, including:
• A child’s brain undergoes very rapid growth, development and diferentiation and lead interferes with this process. For example, it has been shown that moderate blood lead exposure (5 to 40 μg/dL) during early childhood is connected to regionspecifc reductions in adult gray matter volume (Cecil, et al., 2008).
• 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 (WHO, 2010; Mazumdar, et al., 2012).
• 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. Pregnant women may also absorb more ingested lead than other adults. In addition, children are more likely to have nutritional defciencies that lead to increased absorption of lead (WHO, 2010).
Morove exposure to lead can cause: Anaemia, Appetite loss, Weight loss, Behaviour and learning problems, such as hyperactivity, Slowed growth, Hearing problems, Headache, Lethargy, abdominal pains, paleness and vomiting,Degeneration of tissues in the central nervous system is more serious,Circulatory system, reproductive system and gastro-intestinal systems are damaged seriously [1]
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Development of alternatives:The Centre for Environmental Justice filed a legal acrtion to Supreme Court in 2011 to have mandatory standards for lead in decorative paints. Thanks to this Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) issued Gazette No 1725/30 on 30th of September 2011 regulating maximum permissible lead content in paints (90 ppm). This came to effect from 01st January 2013.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Lead in paint is now regulated thanks to the petitons and campaigns carried on by Centre for Environmental Justices and other NGO's. However studies conducted in Sri Lanka show that many paints on the market overpass the legal limits.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Gazette Extra Ordinary No 1725/30 on 30th of September 2011. Sri Lanka

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] C. Rubesinghe, S. Brosché, V. Denney, S. Clark, J. Weinberg. Lead in household dust in Sri Lanka. June 2014
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Asian Lead Paint Elimination Project. IPEN. VOLUME 4, ISSUE 1, JANUARY, 2015

H. Withanage. The Story of lead free paint in Sri Lanka. IPEN, CEJ.
[click to view]

[2] Press Relase 20th October 2014. Creating Sri Lanka’s First Lead Safe Pre-School. Centre for Environmental Justice
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Centre for Environmental Justice (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and Paola Camisani (EJOLT team, Barcelona)
Last update24/06/2015
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