By Elizabeth O’Brien, President, The LEAD Group Inc, Australia
There follows a history of The LEAD Group’s successful advocacy for Australia to become the first country in the world to ban the addition of lead to (nearly) all paints and inks (with the exception of artists’ paints).
2014 Volcano Art Prize (VAP) Entry. Title: Australia first to ban lead in all paint. Lead-safety Message: Test paint for lead before renovating. Never create lead paint dust or lead fumes. Artist: Hugh O’Brien. https://volcanoartprize.com/portfolio-item/australia-first-to-ban-lead-in-all-paint/
In Australia, the residential paint lead limit for zinc-based coatings has been 0.2% since 1997, whereas all other residential coatings have been required to comply with the 0.1% lead limit since 1997.
But as for all paints and inks (with the exception of adults’ artists materials), to my knowledge, Australia has the world’s best legislation on lead (including lead chromates) in non-residential paints and inks. How did this come to be?
In February 1993, environmental health charity The Lead Education and Abatement Design (LEAD) Group Inc, published its objectives (written in July 1992), including:
– to facilitate research into replacements for current uses of lead;
– to investigate other sources of lead exposure with a view to legislating against them or otherwise lessening their effects. For example, to investigate the level of lead in packaging and its contribution to heavy metal fallout around municipal incinerators;
– to convince health and environment protection agencies to cooperate to set up lead task forces which steer lead poisoning prevention activities and further research, with the involvement of community groups. (https://www.lead.org.au/lanv1n1/lanv1n1-17.html)
The LEAD Group convinced the New South Wales (NSW) state Government, to set up an Interdepartmental Lead Taskforce involving 9 Working Groups, including a Lead in Paint Working Group, comprising representatives from the community (Elizabeth O’Brien of The LEAD Group contributed unpaid at all meetings of the 8 Working Groups which held meetings in Sydney), industry, academia and state and federal government departments.
The strategies arrived at by the Taskforce, in November 1994, included:
Strategy 72 Review the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons to reduce the permissible lead concentration of all paints except zinc based paints as defined by Australian Standards AS 2105 and AS 2204.
Strategy 73 Extend the existing prohibitions for the use of First Schedule paints under the Uniform Paint Standard to include industrial buildings and structures, mines and oil terminals, food and drink preparation equipment and utensils and small-scale automotive repair work.
The LEAD Group began collaborating with the Australian Paint Manufacturers Federation (APMF) through the Taskforce consultation process, and continued collaborating during the 1999 writing of the “Lead Alert Six Step Guide” booklets for the federal Environment department (https://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/chemicals/lead.html)
In February 2000, The LEAD Group proposed to the APMF, a lead-awareness project in hardware and paint trade centres about selling lead spot tests and having the “Lead Alert” booklets and Australian environment department fact sheets prominently displayed, for example Lead Alert Facts re:
– Lead in Auto Paints –
– Lead in Marine Paints –environment.gov.au/atmosphere/airquality/publications/marinepaints.html
– Lead in House Paints –environment.gov.au/protection/chemicals-management/lead/lead-in-house-paint
The LEAD Group continued to get the APMF thinking about how they could contribute to lead-safety by asking the APMF questions like:
– “What regulations control the lead level that can be used in new paint on Historic Houses and are there any regulations that control imported paints for such uses?” (in 2001);
– “Have any of your member companies reformulated all their paints to ensure no lead is added to all types of paints?” (in 2002); and
– “Which companies manufacture lead-free paints in Australia or overseas? Are there any decorative paints (residential paints) made or sold in Australia today that have lead added, eg lead driers?” (in 2003).
– “Why is lead paint not mentioned at all in the Coatings Care – Codes of Management Practice for “Community Responsibility”, “Manufacturing” or “Product Stewardship” sections of your website, or in your other web-publications, for instance, when talking about recycling old furniture, painting fences, children’s bedrooms, etc.
In 2005, then Executive Director of the APMF, Michael Hambrook, rang Elizabeth O’Brien to say: “The work of your group has influenced a lot of people and you are to be congratulated for keeping the issue of lead alive. Over the next 2 years we will phase out the final auto paint colours that require lead.”
In 2005, The LEAD Group Inc, was contracted by Australia’s National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), to write: “Hazard Assessment and Controls on the Use of Lead in Surface Coatings, Inks, Cosmetics and Toiletries”, which is still available online, to members of the BLPAC – Ban Leaded Paint and Cosmetics Egroup, (please apply to join the Egroup at
if you wish to read it), at:
“On 3 January 2006, fifteen lead compounds used in industrial surface coatings and inks were declared Priority Existing Chemicals for health risk assessment because of the human toxicity of lead…” (https://web.archive.org/web/20160331145609/https://www.nicnas.gov.au/communications/consultations/past-consultations/lead-in-surface-coatings-and-inks-review-of-restrictions)In September 2007, after consultation with stakeholders over the above 2005 report, NICNAS published a report which contained recommendations for industry and government (including the Director of NICNAS) regarding lead compounds in industrial surface coatings and inks, at:
The Director of NICNAS decided to implement all the recommendations in the 2007 report, and the resulting gazette notice about banning lead compounds in industrial paints and inks imported into, made and sold in Australia as of 1st January 2010 is called: “Notice of Proposed Variations to the Australian Inventory of Chemical Substances (AICS) for Certain Lead Compounds in Industrial Surface Coatings and Inks” and can be found at:
Comments from the Australian Paint Manufacturers Federation (APMF) on the lead ban were published by the Productivity Commission, at
– and a March 2008 news article about the ban, written by the APMF: “Lead in paint restrictions finally gazetted” is at:
The effect of the ban on adding certain lead compounds (ie all the lead compounds that were identified as ever having been added to paints sold in Australia) to industrial surface coatings and inks, is that all paints and inks imported into, made or sold in Australia as of January 1st 2010, must meet the 1997 residential lead paint limits (regarded as lead contamination levels) of 0.1% for non-zinc based paints and 0.2% for zinc-based paints, and that anyone wishing to import the 15 lead compounds, or paints or inks which contain them, (with the exception of artists materials), must notify NICNAS.
2013 Volcano Art Prize (VAP) Entry. Title: The Other Side of Uluru. Lead-safety message: Etchings can be lead free. Today you can buy artists paints that do not contain heavy metals. Materials: Solar Plate Etching with Stencil & Viscosity Printing with lead free inks. Artist: Eli Gallwey.
According to the PIR – Post Implementation Review for the NICNAS Director’s 2007 decision to vary conditions on the Australian Inventory of Chemical Substances (AICS) for certain lead compounds used in industrial surface coatings and inks, February 2013:
“…the continued introduction of lead in industrial surface coatings and inks, without notification to NICNAS, is illegal under the ICNA Act [the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989]”; and
“…[the] PIR concludes that:
the 2007 annotations of 15 lead compounds to phase-out their use in industrial surface coatings and inks were marginally effective in reducing the risk to workers and the public from lead used in industrial surface coatings and inks with minimal imposts on business, given:
– the concurrent voluntary industry program to phase out such use, and
– that in some specific sectors, poor PPE practices were in place; and the annotations should continue in their current form, with appropriate monitoring and compliance, given the:
– increased scientific concern over appropriate standards for blood lead levels; and
– continuing, though isolated instances of lead introductions, possibly for appropriate commercial reasons, combined with continuing poor use of PPE in some sectors, which therefore requires on-going assessment and management of associated risks.”
(Ref: The February 2013 Lead Compounds PIR was originally at: https://ris.finance.gov.au/files/2013/06/Lead_Compounds_PIR.doc but not found online as at August 2017.)
In September 2013, NICNAS wrote:
“As the PIR report identified possible instances of continuing introductions of lead compounds for use in industrial surface coatings, compliance monitoring activities are proposed for 2013-14 which aim to determine compliance with the conditions of use associated with the introduction of these chemicals.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20160331145609/https://www.nicnas.gov.au/communications/consultations/past-consultations/lead-in-surface-coatings-and-inks-review-of-restrictions)
According to LEAD Group Technical Advisory Board (TAB) Member Dr Perry Gottesfeld of Occupational Knowledge International (USA), in his Frontiers of Public Health article “Time to Ban Lead in Industrial Paints and Coatings” (18 May 2015), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4434842/ ):
“Perhaps Australia has the most comprehensive list of lead compounds that have been banned for use in paints since 2008 with some exceptions.” (Ref: Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No. C 02, 5 February 2008 (archived at): https://web.archive.org/web/20080721163548/https://www.nicnas.gov.au/Publications/Chemical_Gazette/pdf/2008feb_whole.pdf )
Dr Gottesfeld goes on to say: “It is more difficult and costly to verify compliance with these kinds of chemical-specific restrictions rather than outright limits in the lead concentration allowed in paints. That has been the approach in the U.S. and Canada where there are restrictions on the total lead content of [residential] paints at 90 ppm [parts per million], without regards to specific pigments or drier additives.”
As for the rest of the world, the only other policy The LEAD Group is aware of, that comes close to banning the addition of lead to non-residential paints is a ban on only some lead compounds in the REACH legislation in the European Union.
Again quoting from Dr Perry Gottesfeld’s 2015 journal article:
“The EU has restricted the use of some specific pigments for residential applications and recently initiated action to ban the use of lead chromate pigments for additional applications. However, the REACH process allows companies to apply for exemptions (i.e., authorizations) to these restrictions, and in the case of lead chromate pigments, have accepted false assertions that alternatives are not available.”
As it says in the Volcano Art Prize (VAP) 2012 Entry titled “Sunset clause on lead in auto paints”, Lead Safety Message: the next step for Australia is to ban the import of painted or inked objects (vehicles, building componentry, cranes, ships, mirrors, furniture, garage doors, playground equipment, fencing, etc) which are coated with inks or paints from containing any of the banned lead compounds that cannot be made or sold here.
2012 Volcano Art Prize (VAP) Entry. Title: “Sunset clause on lead in auto paints”. Photographer: Sue Gee.
You might like to consider whether you’d like to order copies of the printed “Sunset clause on lead in auto paints” as a Lead Safe World Poster (or any other VAP Entry as a Poster) for your office or network. See https://volcanoartprize.com/purchase-poster/ and https://www.leadsafeworld.com/product/leadsafeworld-poster/
Lead Safe World Posters can be ordered at leadsafeworld.com/shop
Please be encouraged to enter our environmental art competition (VAP) too! See details at volcanoartprize.com