Enamel paints available in India contain high levels of lead which damage the central nervous system, particularly in children and pregnant women.
According to a joint study by 10 international research organisations, including the Bengaluru-based National Referral Centre for Lead Poisoning, Indian paints on average contain 33,000 ppm (parts per million) of lead as against the permissible levels of 600 ppm.
Interestingly, the percentage of lead differs in different colours with white enamel paints having 1,330 ppm, making it the safer bet though it is more than twice the permissible levels. According to the study, yellow paint has the highest lead at 85,000 ppm (dry weight), followed by orange 79,700 ppm, red 30,600 ppm, green with 28,200 ppm, black 8,050, blue 4,610.
"Though lead poisoning of children is widely recognised as a major public health problem in many parts of the world, very little attention has been given in many countries to the role of leaded paints," Dr Venkatesh Thuppil, one of the members of the research team, said.
"The colour with the lowest lead concentration was white and the colours with the highest concentrations are yellow and orange, followed closely by green and red," said Dr Thuppil, popularly known as the "Lead Man of India" for his pioneering efforts in the introduction of lead-free petrol in the country.
He said the concentration of lead in most of the samples was greater than or equal to 600 ppm. Dr Thuppil along with Dr C.S. Clark, who led the research, said the lead levels should not cross 90 ppm if people are to be protected from heavy metal poisoning.
The study noted that 73 per cent of paint brands tested from 12 countries fail to comply with the standard limits. Almost half of the world's population lives in these countries which include India and China. About 70 per cent of the brands had at least one sample exceeding 10,000 ppm.