EcoWaste Coalition Cautions Food Vendors and Consumers against Lead-Tainted Paint Brushes

Quezon City.  A toxics watchdog has cautioned vendors and consumers against the use of paint brushes for basting meat while barbecuing and for other food applications.

The EcoWaste Coalition’s Task Force on Food Safety made the warning after a chemical analysis of 25 paint brushes bought from small and big hardware stores showed elevated levels of lead in 22 of the samples.

Using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, the EcoWaste Coalition detected  lead up to 17,400 parts per million (ppm) on the painted wooden handles of the 22 paint brushes, way above the US safety standard of 90 ppm for lead in paint.

Subsequent market investigation by the group’s AlerToxic Patrol revealed that paint brushes are also being used in several food applications, prompting the group to make the warning.

“Our investigation shows that paint brushes are often used as basting brushes to a variety of street food such as pork and chicken barbecue, boiled corn on the cob, hotcake and native bibingka,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“Paint brushes, especially those with handles coated in leaded paint, are not food-safe and should not be used for basting or greasing food,” he pointed out.

“The leaded paint will, sooner or later, chip off and get mixed with the basting sauce or with the butter or margarine and that’s not good for health,” he explained.

Toxicologist Dr. Bessie Antonio of the East Avenue Medical Center agrees, saying that “strictly speaking, paint brushes are not meant to be in contact with food.”

“As a precaution against potential contamination, food preparers and sellers should use suitable food contact materials that are clean, hygienic and free of lead and other toxins,” said Antonio, who is also the Vice-President of the Philippine Society of Clinical and Occupational Toxicology.

The EcoWaste Coalition bought the paint brushes, representing 14 brands costing P12 to P102 each, from 12 hardware and home improvement stores at the Araneta Commercial Center and adjacent places in Cubao, Quezon City.

Only 3 paint brushes (Hi Tech with black plastic handle, Mansion with wooden handle in natural varnish and Stanley with wooden handle in brown varnish) had low or non-detectable levels of lead.

The top 10 samples that registered with the highest levels of lead at their yellow painted handles were Hi Tech (3”), 17,400 ppm; Lotus (2.5”), 16,500 ppm; Camel (2”), 12,800 ppm; Panclub (1 ½), 12,700 ppm; Lotus (1”), 12,600 ppm; Croco (2”), 10,800 ppm; no brand name (3”), 9214 ppm; Camel (3/4”), 8,931 ppm; Butterfly (2”), 6,181 ppm; and Lotus (1”, brown handle), 5,027 ppm.

Also, traces of arsenic (highest: 2,104 ppm), chromium (highest: 11,200 ppm) and mercury (highest: 81 ppm) were found in most of the samples.

None of the samples had precautionary labels to notify consumers about lead and other chemicals of concern on the paint brushes, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

According to the group, information on chemicals in a product with matching precautionary warning is essential to guide consumers in making informed choices and in preventing risks of exposure for users and non-users alike.

In separate letters to the hardware store chains, the EcoWaste Coalition suggested that they either voluntarily remove the leaded paint brushes off the shelves or post a visible warning that will inform consumers about the lead content of such articles.

The hardware stores were also urged to require their paint brush suppliers to manufacture lead-free, non-toxic brushes.

The EcoWaste Coalition further suggested that hardware stores should provide a warning sign next to the leaded paint brushes that says “not safe for basting food” – or its equivalent in local language – to prevent contamination during food preparation.

The EcoWaste Coalition is a national network of more than 150 public interest groups pursuing sustainable and just solutions to waste, climate change and chemical issues towards the envisioned Zero Waste 2020 goal.