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Address by Minister Barbara Creecy, at the launch and handover ceremony of the hand-held XRF analysers for lead in paint testing to Department of Health

28 October 2022


His Excellency, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, Deputy Minister of Health
Ms. Tara Benn, Executive Director of SA Paint Manufacturing Association
Prof. Angela Mathee, Director of Environment and Health Research Unit at South African Medical Research Council
Programme director

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure for me to be speaking at this event today.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002, governments called for the phase out of lead-based paint. The Global Alliance to Eliminate Paint (Lead Paint Alliance) was formed in 2011 to promote the phasing out of the manufacture and sale of paints containing lead and eventually to eliminate the risks that such paints pose.

A key requirement for achieving this has been the establishment of appropriate national regulatory frameworks to stop the manufacture, import, export, distribution, sale and use of lead paints and products coated with lead paints.

Distinguished delegates, this week of 24–30 October 2021 marks International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

It is a week of action initiated by the Lead Paint Alliance and is jointly led by the UN Environment Programme and the World Health Organisation.  

Lead can be easily transported through the air and water and impact on ecosystems. While plants absorb lead from the soil and retain most of the lead in their roots, wildlife can be exposed to lead once it is released via contaminated air, water, soil, foodstuffs and human activities.

Although lead is not very mobile in soil, it may enter surface waters as a result of the erosion of lead containing soil particles and the dumping of waste containing lead products.

There is no known safe level of lead exposure, and even relatively low levels of contact can cause serious and irreversible neurological damage.

The World Health Organisation states that once lead enters the body, it is distributed to organs such as the brain, kidneys, liver and bones. The body stores lead in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Lead stored in bone may be released into the blood during pregnancy, thus exposing the foetus. The WHO adds that undernourished children are more susceptible to lead because their bodies absorb more lead if other nutrients, such as calcium or iron, are lacking.

A United Nations Environment Programme study investigating the economic impact of childhood lead exposure on national economies in all low- and middle-income countries, states that IQ losses stemming from lead exposure has resulted in an estimated loss to the South African economy of $17.7 billion, estimating a total cumulative cost burden of $977 billion per year in low and middle-income countries.

Distinguished delegates, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment collaborated with the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation to host the Operation Phakisa: Chemicals and Waste Economy Lab in 2017.

During the Lab the team not only prioritised issues and developed solutions and action plans to reduce harmful environmental impact of a heavy metal such as lead, whilst contributing to GDP growth and job creation.

Since the launch of the Lab’s recommendations in 2019, numerous outcomes are being implemented by the Department’s Chemicals and Waste Management branch in partnership with relevant government departments, industry, and other stakeholders.

The Lab’s chemicals work stream had identified initiatives across three broad areas which mitigate against negative environmental impact. This includes phasing out lead in paints and paint pigments and to reduce the health hazards of lead exposure originating from leaded paints and pigments. The initiative also highlights the value South Africa places on responding to its international commitments to eliminiate lead in paint and thus safeguard the South African population against the health risks of lead exposure.

Delegates, the Lead in Paint Initiative seeks to promote a safe South Africa with lead-free paints and paint pigments. The aim is to establish an appropriate national regulatory framework to limit the total amount of lead content in locally produced and imported lead-based paint and paint pigments.

This to be achieved through

Amending legislation, particularly the Hazardous Substances Act, to reduce the lead content in paint products

Monitoring and enforcing the implementation of the revised legislation, and the impact thereof, and

Designign and implementing a public awareness campaign on lead paint hazards.

The department, in partnership with the Departments of Health and Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic), has established a national technical working group to formulate lead (Pb) in paint regulations that limit the lead concentration in paint to 90ppm in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation. The technical working group comprises industry role players, academia and other government departments.

That is the reason for the department’s acquisition of eight handheld XRF analysers to monitor and enforce the implementation of the regulations at the ports of entry. These portable analysing devices will be handed over to the Department of Health and will be used to screen paints entering the country via all points of entry to determine whether the paints or similar coatings comply with the 90-ppm lead concentration limit.

The analysers are part of the infrastructure required to eliminate lead in paint and will contribute to strengthening enforcement of the lead in paint regulations.

Where screening indicates that the lead content exceeds the 90-ppm limit, the suspected non-compliant products will be confiscated and a paint sample will be taken to an accredited laboratory for quantitative analyses for verification purposes. If the product is confirmed to the non-compliant the parties involved could either be fined or face time in prison.

The best way to protect the population from lead in paint exposure is to act now by introducing and enforcing laws that either ban or restrict the use of lead in paint. I am pleased that the National Technical Working Group lead by the Department of Health has developed lead in paint regulations to ban the use of lead in paint to safeguard our population from the harmful effects of lead exposure.

I believe that, through this collaborative work, we can all positively contribute to the government’s plans towards eliminating lead paint.

Thank you.


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