Executive Briefings

Preventing a "Lead in Paint" Crisis

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced nearly 60 recalls of children's products in 2007 due to lead, not including children's jewelry, with nearly 40 of the recalls involving toys. This compares to six non-jewelry recalls for lead in 2006.

Most manufacturers, importers, and retailers have had longstanding programs in place for controlling heavy metals in paint, but confidence in these programs was shaken for good reason. Assumptions that the programs were working suddenly became invalid as evidenced by the flurry of recalls in 2007. The first response to the crisis was to require more testing at multiple points, including finished products, prior to releasing them for shipment.

While the concept of "more (testing) is better" is appealing, increased testing can be financially burdensome and can cause delays in shipments. Recent reports from China indicate that the time required for testing lead in paint had increased well beyond a few days due to the increase in demand on the test laboratories. This situation appears to have now stabilized as capacity catches up with demand.

How Lead Paint Enters the Supply Chain

In enacting a more preventive approach for avoiding lead in paint, it is important to understand how lead paint got into the supply chain and made it into the marketplace undetected. Discussions with companies that have had lead paint issues recently revealed that there are three primary sources of lead in paint:

1. Substitution of lead paint for unleaded paint-This falls into two categories: intentional and unintentional. It is difficult to determine if the recent failures were caused by the intentional substitution of lead paint. What is known is that in a number of cases, lead paint was used in place of unleaded paint. Customers of the paint suppliers relied on self certification with minimal verification, which left the door open for the improper use of lead paint. Unintentional substitution appeared to be the primary issue with recent recalls. Painting vendors who use both lead and unleaded paint in their facilities did not have effective systems for keeping the two paints isolated from each other, resulting in the use of the wrong paint.

2. Colorants-Various compounds of lead have been used in colorants, including lead chromate and lead carbonate. In addition to lead, other heavy metals used in colorants, including chromium and cadmium, are toxic and are also restricted in paint by industry standards and regulations.

3. Contamination-While contamination initially appeared to be a factor in recent recalls, it is believed to be less of an issue than substitution. In many cases, the level of lead was reported to be hundreds of times the legal limit which would be more consistent with the use of lead-based paint, not contamination. However, due to the various routes of contamination, preventing it can be challenging.

The following are some of the ways contamination can occur:

  • Use of equipment that has recently been used to apply lead paint.
  • Solvents used to clean lead paint out of equipment are reused to clean lead free equipment or to thin unleaded paint.
  • Residue of lead paint is emptied into containers that contain unleaded paint.
  • Use of containers that contain lead.
  • Residue of leaded paint can migrate to areas where unleaded paint is being used.

Improper cleaning and reuse of containers that have previously had lead paint in them.

Steps Manufacturers and Importers Can Take to Reduce Lead in Paint Risks

While this is not an exhaustive list, the following can greatly reduce the risks of shipping products with lead in paint.

1. Use only "lead-free" manufacturing facilities.
2. Use only manufacturers that can demonstrate that they maintain strict controls on painting operations.
3. Impose controls on painting subcontractors.
4. Set specifications for lead tighter than legal standards.
5. Contractual agreements specifying costs to supplier if heavy metals are found in products.
6. Consignment in terms of the importer/manufacturer providing its own paint to suppliers.
7. Third-party testing.
8. Require traceability of paint batches.
9. Set minimum requirements that manufacturers must meet in their facilities.

The lead paint recalls of 2007 reaffirmed the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The lesson learned is that it is much more economical and logistically easier to avoid lead in paint than to deal with the damage done by recalls.

For additional information about product risk issues, please visit www.marshproductrecall.com. For a full copy of this article, please email: supplychain.intelligence@marsh.com 

Gary Jones, Vice President, Marsh's Product Risk Practice, is an expert in toy quality and product safety having served in a leadership capacity in this area at several toy and baby products companies. He served on the Toy Industry Association's Safety Standards and Technical Committee from 2004-2007 and on the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI) Technical Advisory Board. He is a member of the ASTM F15.22 Subcommittee on Toy Safety and the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO).

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced nearly 60 recalls of children's products in 2007 due to lead, not including children's jewelry, with nearly 40 of the recalls involving toys. This compares to six non-jewelry recalls for lead in 2006.

Most manufacturers, importers, and retailers have had longstanding programs in place for controlling heavy metals in paint, but confidence in these programs was shaken for good reason. Assumptions that the programs were working suddenly became invalid as evidenced by the flurry of recalls in 2007. The first response to the crisis was to require more testing at multiple points, including finished products, prior to releasing them for shipment.

While the concept of "more (testing) is better" is appealing, increased testing can be financially burdensome and can cause delays in shipments. Recent reports from China indicate that the time required for testing lead in paint had increased well beyond a few days due to the increase in demand on the test laboratories. This situation appears to have now stabilized as capacity catches up with demand.

How Lead Paint Enters the Supply Chain

In enacting a more preventive approach for avoiding lead in paint, it is important to understand how lead paint got into the supply chain and made it into the marketplace undetected. Discussions with companies that have had lead paint issues recently revealed that there are three primary sources of lead in paint:

1. Substitution of lead paint for unleaded paint-This falls into two categories: intentional and unintentional. It is difficult to determine if the recent failures were caused by the intentional substitution of lead paint. What is known is that in a number of cases, lead paint was used in place of unleaded paint. Customers of the paint suppliers relied on self certification with minimal verification, which left the door open for the improper use of lead paint. Unintentional substitution appeared to be the primary issue with recent recalls. Painting vendors who use both lead and unleaded paint in their facilities did not have effective systems for keeping the two paints isolated from each other, resulting in the use of the wrong paint.

2. Colorants-Various compounds of lead have been used in colorants, including lead chromate and lead carbonate. In addition to lead, other heavy metals used in colorants, including chromium and cadmium, are toxic and are also restricted in paint by industry standards and regulations.

3. Contamination-While contamination initially appeared to be a factor in recent recalls, it is believed to be less of an issue than substitution. In many cases, the level of lead was reported to be hundreds of times the legal limit which would be more consistent with the use of lead-based paint, not contamination. However, due to the various routes of contamination, preventing it can be challenging.

The following are some of the ways contamination can occur:

  • Use of equipment that has recently been used to apply lead paint.
  • Solvents used to clean lead paint out of equipment are reused to clean lead free equipment or to thin unleaded paint.
  • Residue of lead paint is emptied into containers that contain unleaded paint.
  • Use of containers that contain lead.
  • Residue of leaded paint can migrate to areas where unleaded paint is being used.

Improper cleaning and reuse of containers that have previously had lead paint in them.

Steps Manufacturers and Importers Can Take to Reduce Lead in Paint Risks

While this is not an exhaustive list, the following can greatly reduce the risks of shipping products with lead in paint.

1. Use only "lead-free" manufacturing facilities.
2. Use only manufacturers that can demonstrate that they maintain strict controls on painting operations.
3. Impose controls on painting subcontractors.
4. Set specifications for lead tighter than legal standards.
5. Contractual agreements specifying costs to supplier if heavy metals are found in products.
6. Consignment in terms of the importer/manufacturer providing its own paint to suppliers.
7. Third-party testing.
8. Require traceability of paint batches.
9. Set minimum requirements that manufacturers must meet in their facilities.

The lead paint recalls of 2007 reaffirmed the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The lesson learned is that it is much more economical and logistically easier to avoid lead in paint than to deal with the damage done by recalls.

For additional information about product risk issues, please visit www.marshproductrecall.com. For a full copy of this article, please email: supplychain.intelligence@marsh.com 

Gary Jones, Vice President, Marsh's Product Risk Practice, is an expert in toy quality and product safety having served in a leadership capacity in this area at several toy and baby products companies. He served on the Toy Industry Association's Safety Standards and Technical Committee from 2004-2007 and on the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI) Technical Advisory Board. He is a member of the ASTM F15.22 Subcommittee on Toy Safety and the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO).