The UC-led team analyzed 80 consumer paint samples of various colors and brands from four countries--India, Malaysia, China and Singapore--to determine the amount of lead and compare them with U.S. standards.
Each paint sample was applied in a single layer to a wood block, left to dry and then removed and analyzed in UC laboratories for lead content.
About 50 percent of the paint sold in China, India and Malaysia--none of which appear to have regulations on lead--had lead levels 30 times higher than U.S. regulations. In contrast in Singapore, which has well-enforced regulations, only 10 percent of paint samples were above U.S. regulations, the highest being six times the U.S. limit.
Clark says he is concerned about children who are currently exposed to lead in their houses and neighborhoods--and for those who will live in such places in the future.
"Lead-based paints have already poisoned millions of children in the United States and will likely cause similar damage in the future as paint use increases in Asian countries and elsewhere," he says. "Our findings provide stark evidence of the urgent need for an effective worldwide ban on the use of lead-based paint."
Children are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning for a number of reasons, including their natural hand-to-mouth behaviors. Workers responsible for removing lead-based paint are also at high risk for lead poisoning.
In 1978, the United States restricted lead content in paint after determining that people--especially young children--were being poisoned by environmental exposures to the element. Many Third World countries, says Clark, did not follow suit, and continue to manufacture and sell lead-based paints that would be prohibited in the United States and in some other countries.