By Gabriel Olawale
A United Nations Environment Programme official, Desiree Narvaez, has put the economic cost of exposing children to lead in Nigeria at $16.2 billion, even as she revealed that five million children under age five are at risk.
She lamented that despite series of studies that have shown the health and economic implication of lead exposure, Nigeria has not been able to enact law that will regulate the use of chemical that contains lead.
Narvaez said this during a virtual two-day project launch in Lagos entitled, “Global Environment Facility (GEF)9771: Global Best Practices on Emerging Chemicals Policy Issues of Concern under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management”.
According to Narvaez, lead concentration in paint and coating is on the high side in Nigeria due to lack of laws to regulate the materials used for production.
In her words: “Many domestic paint manufacturers have not complied with the international standards because of fear of losing market shares with growing industry competition.
“While countries like Algeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa have lead paint laws, Nigeria, Rwanda, Zambia and Ghana are still at the stage of drafting lead paint laws.
“The lower the concentration of lead in paint, the more this is protective of human health. 90 ppm is the lowest, technically feasible limit, which represents the most protective limit currently possible.
“Zero lead content is not possible because some ingredients contain lead naturally. 90 ppm limit is promoted as an international limit,” the UN official noted.
Corroborating her views on the cost of exposing children to lead, Executive Director, Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development, Dr. Leslie Adogame, called on Nigerian government to pay more attention to issue of chemical management in the country.
“Chemicals either in form of lead, mercury among others are killing Nigerians and government needs to pay attention to it.
“Decorative paints in Nigeria have been found to contain high level of lead and globally there is a lot of global attention to phase out the use of lead in paints by 2020,” Adogame stated.
He explained that paints manufacturers do not intentionally add lead to their products, “but they do not have the opportunity for alternatives.
“The Global Environment Facility project is aimed at helping them understand the alternatives that are available and how they can reformulate them.”
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He revealed that lead does not only affect the mental reasoning of children, but also damages the brain of children and it is very dangerous to adults.
“When lead is added to paints and coatings, it has serious implications on human health. Economically, it reduces the production capacity of a country.
“He advised paint manufacturers to key into reformulation process, saying “The alternatives don’t require you to change process line, it is just chemical reformulation.
“Material and equipment are still intact.”
On her part, IPEN Global Lead Paint Elimination Campaign Manager, Dr. Sara Brosché, expressed satisfaction over the progress Nigeria has made towards banning lead paint.
“The efforts will benefit not only the children in Nigeria, but everyone in the country,” added Brosché, who was represented by Dr. Tom Aneni.
The Chairman, Paint Manufacturers Association, Abimbola Babatunde, said the current paint policy being championed by the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment is a right step in the right direction and will address some of the challenges facing operators in the industry.