Widespread use of paint that is laden with lead and other toxins poses new health challenges to pregnant mothers and infants, said a new study by the UN Environmental Program launched Tuesday in Nairobi.
The new study revealed that the consumption of paints that contain lead has surged mainly in developing countries to the detriment of human and environmental health, Xinhua reported citing the study.
"Lead pollution is an emerging environmental threat that demands urgent attention. Science is clear that lead paint impact negatively on the health of pregnant mothers and children," UNEP's Director of the Division of Early Warning Assessment (DEWA) Peter Gilruth told journalists during the launch of the report in Nairobi.
The global construction sector continues to use paint that contains lead and other toxins despite the existence of a ban that was enforced by the League of Nations 90 years ago.
Gilruth challenged governments, industry and environmental groups to re-energise efforts to achieve a lead free world.
"We need to raise attention to environmental and health dangers posed by lead in paint. Legislation should be enforced to ensure lead is not applied in the manufacture of paints," said Gilruth.
The UNEP study analysed enamel decorative paints from nine countries to ascertain the level of lead and other toxic metals.
The majority of the paints that were tested failed to meet the regulatory standards approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Paints with extremely high levels of lead are readily available in many countries thanks to regulatory hiccups and low level of awareness.
The UNEP report was categorical that countries grappling with lead pollution are yet to establish regulatory frameworks.
Globally, 30 countries have already phased out the use of lead paint while others are finetuning their domestic laws and policies to achieve this goal.
The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead paint, which is co-led by WHO and the UNEP, has set a target of 70 countries by 2015.
Exposure to lead has devastating health consequences on children including cognitive impairment and stunted growth.
"Each year, according to WHO figures, childhood lead exposure contributes to an estimated 600,000 new cases of intellectual disabilities," Nick Nuttal, the UNEP spokesperson and director of communications, said.
He challenged manufacturers, governments and consumers to acknowledge the environmental and health impact of lead in paint.
Lead is applied to the paints to make them sparkle or to serve as drying agents.