The SA Paint Manufacturing Association (SAPMA) has, with major reservations, welcomed the news that the Government has decreed that, from October 2022, lead will virtually be a banned component of coatings. But it is sceptical about effective legal enforcement of the regulations.
The new legislation was announced by SA Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, in the Government Gazette, in October 2021.
The new technical laws shift the classification of leaded paint under SA’s half-century-old Hazardous Substances Act, and effectively changes the legal definition of "leaded paint". It follows decades of lobbying for the removal of lead in paint by SAPMA in collaboration with the Medical Research Council.
Back in mid-2010 already, South Africa declared "leaded paint” as a Group I Hazardous Substance – but with exceptions. Paints with lead at a level below 600 parts per million (ppm) were then not affected, and there were exceptions for paint used as industrial coatings, garden equipment, and some toys.
The new rules will now totally ban paint with lead above 90ppm (0.009%, instead of 0.06%) – and apply to all "paints and coating materials".
Tara Benn, Executive Director of SAPMA, says SAPMA is delighted with the new legislation. "But we have one major concern: we want to see whether – and how effectively – the Government will police the new regulations,” she cautions.
Benn says SAPMA has for many years urged the authorities to start prosecuting unscrupulous paint producers who blatantly included hazardous lead levels in their paints and has pleaded that retailers who sell such paint be taken to Court. "Random samples taken from hardware shelves by the government regularly showed that hazardous levels of paint were still being sold. But no report of any offender being charged by the police appeared in the press.”
Benn says SAPMA is convinced that the new legislation will only be effective if the government make examples of culprits and prosecute them – and start doing so immediately even if only in compliance with current legislation.
"Such action would ring the alarm bells and justify the costly and time-consuming efforts our members have made to comply with ethical policies in terms of leaded coatings. Many members, producing South Africa’s major brands, have for some years now already eliminated lead in decorative paint, and have diligently worked towards the total elimination of lead in the manufacture of paint, including industrial products such as road-marking paint.
"But these members have not heard of any prosecution of competitors who arrogantly flaunted – and are still flaunting – the country’s laws.
"So, SAPMA must be forgiven if we are not yet shouting from the rooftops about the new laws. We first want to see culprits in court. The only way to show offenders that the Government means business – and will enforce laws relating to leaded paint – is to ‘name-and-shame’ the criminals,” Benn adds.