PPG refuses to recall leaded paint in Cameroon
Monday, February 06, 2012
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PPG Industries has been selling house paint high in lead content in the African nation of Cameroon for years, and although it says it stopped production of that paint late last year, it has rejected a request that it recall or accurately label its lead paints now selling in stores there.
Occupational Knowledge International, a San Francisco-based environmental health advocacy organization, said its inquiries pushed PPG to direct its Cameroon subsidiary, Seigneurie, to stop making the lead-based paint, which would be banned in the U.S.
In a statement issued in response to questions by the Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh-headquartered company maintains that it “initiated its own action to review its consumer coatings to ensure the lead content conforms to applicable legal requirements.”
What isn’t in dispute is that PPG has refused to order Seigneurie, which it acquired in 2007, to recall the lead paint already on the Cameroon market or label it as containing lead, according to Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of Occupational Knowledge.
The continuing sales of lead paint in Cameroon, Mr. Gottesfeld said, are contributing to a short- and long-term health hazard that will take decades to correct.
“In this day and age it’s just irresponsible to operate that way, and it’s irresponsible because we know it’s unsafe,” said Mr. Gottesfeld. “PPG also said it wouldn’t remove the lead from its industrial paints in Cameroon, and that’s a problem because there is no distinction between industrial and house paint at the stores in Cameroon.”
The U.S. banned interior and exterior household paint with lead content above 600 parts per million in 1978. And based on subsequent scientific studies, it tightened the standard to 90 parts per million in 2008 to reduce the risk of lead poisoning in children who can ingest paint chips, flakes or peelings or inhale lead paint dust.
Studies have shown that even low-level lead exposure can significantly affect mental capacity and higher exposures can cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, even seizures and death.
Historically, lead was added to paints to aid in drying, color uniformity and retention, durability and as a rust inhibitor. But ready substitutes exist that add only about 2 percent to production costs, Mr. Gottesfeld said.
According to a paint sample study done in Cameroon last year, nine of 24 Seigneurie paints bought in stores contained lead concentrations of more than 300 parts per million and eight of those had lead concentrations above 1,800 parts per million.
One Seigneurie paint, for metal application, contained 500,000 parts per million of lead, or half its volume, according to the paint survey by CREPD, a Cameroon-based nonprofit.
Although Seigneurie dominates the paint market in Cameroon, it wasn’t the only offender. According to the survey findings published in December, 40 of the 60 different paints tested in Cameroon exceeded U.S. regulations.
Occupational Knowledge first contacted PPG in early October about the lead paint problem in Cameroon. Jeremy Nuhart, a PPG spokesman, couldn’t say exactly when Seigneurie stopped making lead paint, except that it was “late last year.”
“When we brought all the lead paints to the attention of PPG they said, ‘OK, since you brought it to our attention we will stop doing it,” Mr. Gottesfeld said. “But they couldn’t give us a date of exactly when.”
In response to questions about its Cameroon operation, Mr. Neuhart said PPG “meets or exceeds all applicable legal requirements with respect to lead content wherever PPG coatings are manufactured and/or marketed.”
Cameroon has no lead paint limits, but Mr. Neuhart said in the release the company supports establishment of standards and “will comply with such a regulation if enacted.”
He said the company now produces consumer paints that meet the 90 parts per million standard, but doesn’t say all the paints produced meet that standard. He said some non-consumer, industrial paints produced in Cameroon and sold in that country, Senegal and South Africa for road marking and auto refinishing “may” continue to contain lead.
Although Seigneurie isn’t taking its lead paint off store shelves, Mr. Neuhart said PPG has contacted Seigneurie paint customers and offering to exchange new lead-free paint for the previously sold paint containing lead. The company is disposing of the lead paint it receives from customers along with all lead paint in its inventory, he said.
Regarding Mr. Gottesfeld’s complaints about lack of labels identifying lead-based consumer paints as such, Mr. Neuhart said PPG’s paint labels “comply with the requirements established by the government regulatory authorities in the places where PPG’s products are sold.”
Mr. Gottesfeld said none of the PPG paints in Cameroon are labeled as containing lead and none are printed with the date the paint was produced, making it difficult to determine how much lead-based paint is still on the market or which paint cans contain lead paint.
Lead paint is still a problem in at least 20 nations around the world, including Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Egypt, according to a series of studies conducted between 2005 and 2009.
PPG manufactures paints in 38 countries around the world, including five African nations, according to its website. Its paint brands include PPG Pittsburgh Paints, Lucite and Olympic paints in North America; and in other parts of the world markets paints under Sigma Coatings, Dekoral, Primalex, Univer, Johnstone’s, Master’s Mark, and Seigneurie, the paint brand in Cameroon.
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1983.
First published on February 6, 2012 at 12:00 am