Paints on sale in Abu Dhabi contain 'high' levels of lead

Products would be banned in US, Europe and Australia but are still on sale in the UAE while stringent new controls are under discussion.

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ABU DHABI // Paint containing levels of lead that are banned in some countries is being sold in the UAE.
High levels of the potentially dangerous substance were found in five out of 51 random samples of indoor and outdoor paint, stains and varnishes tested in the emirate by the Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council (QCC).
The unnamed paints are still on sale because the QCC has no powers to remove them as they are not yet regulated on a federal level, but it is working with government departments to develop stringent regulations.
"In other parts of the world, they would be banned," said Dr Simon Miller, a senior analyst in product conformity at the council.
"Lead above trace levels in paints has been banned in Australia since 1914, America since 1978 and Europe since 1989.
"In five of the 51 we tested we found levels of between 1,000 and 20,000 parts per million of lead. Of those five, three had failing levels of other heavy metals."
The other metals he refers to are chromium and antimony.
The average lead content level for the paints that passed the test was six parts per million, well within the trace-levels limit.
European regulations, which the QCC applied in their tests, dictate that the heavy-metal content, including lead, should not exceed trace levels set at a maximum of 100 parts per million.
The paints that failed could be dangerous if ingested or inhaled, said Dr Miller.
"Lead is a toxic compound that's damaging to tissues and organs on repeated or extended exposure," he said. "The dangers of lead and heavy metals in paint has been well known for many decades ... so I guess it's concerning but it is not a complete surprise.
"We know that paints are still manufactured with lead at those levels in other countries."
Prof Salah Gariballa, the chairman of the internal medicine department at UAE University, said acute lead poisoning could damage the nervous system, as well as cause diarrhoea, vomiting and constipation.
Chronic poisoning - as a result of ingestion over a long period - can also lead to nervous-system damage, as well as fatigue, depression and problems with concentration and memory.
"It's very well known that exposure to lead should not happen and it can damage health," Prof Gariballa said.
The tests were carried out on products obtained randomly from hardware stores, other retailers, manufacturers and suppliers.
Salem Al Qassimi, the director of product conformity at the QCC, said that five of the 51 samples taken failed at high ranges of lead.
He said the QCC was in talks with regulators such as the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the emirate's Department of Municipal Affairs to establish regulations setting limits for the content of heavy metals and volatile organic compounds (VOC), which are chemicals emitted as an odour or airborne emission that can have detrimental effects on health and the environment.
The VOC level in the 51 products was also tested and compared with amounts that are deemed acceptable in the QCC's Exterior and Interior Paints Conformity Scheme. This was launched at the beginning of the year and applies European standards in lead and VOC content.
"Twenty failed," said Dr Miller. "That doesn't mean that there is a health or risk issue with those 20 that failed, it's just that they would not be able to apply for our scheme.
"It's an area for improvement but paints sometimes have specific applications where high VOC levels can be beneficial for them."
VOCs can cause respiratory problems at high levels, he said, but none of the levels detected in the tests were high enough to "ring any alarm bells". The QCC is continuing to test more paints.
Under its conformity scheme, paint manufacturers and suppliers that wish to receive the "Trustmark for Environmental Performance" must have their products tested and verified by an internationally accredited laboratory when applying for certification.
The roll-out of the scheme, which is voluntary, is a collaborative venture between the QCC, the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, through its Estidama programme, and the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.