Cebu BBQ Vendors Cautioned vs. Use of Lead-Tainted Paint Brushes

Environmental groups promoting public safety from lead paint hazard today warned against the improper use of paint brushes as basting brushes for barbecues and other food preparations.  

Cebu-based Philippine Earth Justice Center and Quezon City-based EcoWaste Coalition sounded the alarm on potential lead contamination of the city’s famous sinugba (barbecue) after finding vendors in the Larsian and Carbon areas applying basting sauce on chicken, pork, hotdog and isaw barbecues with paint brushes that are supposed to be used for applying paints, not for rubbing barbecue basting sauce. 

To verify if paint brushes sold locally are lead-safe, the groups obtained 19 samples of paint brushes sold at P5 to P119 each from 6 hardware stores in the city.

With the help of a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analytical device, the groups examined the paint brushes for total lead content.

Out of 19 samples of paint brushes, 16 were found to contain lead in the range of 309 parts per million (ppm) to 10,500 ppm, way above the US limit of 90 ppm for lead in paints and surface coatings.

“Our joint investigation with PEJC proves that paint brushes often used for greasing barbecues contain elevated levels of lead,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“This raises the possibility of the basting sauce being contaminated with lead from the paint brushes, especially if the brushes have started to flake due to frequent use,” he said. 

“The results of our probe should prompt the authorities to initiate an information drive regarding the hazards of misusing lead-containing products, especially for food preparations,” said Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, Coordinator of the PEJC. 

“We also hope that our findings will induce hardware stores to demand lead-safe paints and paint brushes from their suppliers in order to safeguard the public health,” she added.

The top nine paint brushes that showed the highest levels of lead include:

1.  Lotus Utility Paint Brush (2 1/2”), 10,500 ppm
2.  Panclub Utility Paint Brush (2 1/2”), 9.801 ppm
3.  Camel Paint Brush (2 1/2”), 6,400 ppm
4.  Lotus Utility Paint Brush (3”), 3,271 ppm
5.  Camel Paint Brush (1 1/2”), 2,384 ppm
6.  Panclub Utility Paint Brush (1 1/2"),  2,153 ppm
7.  Globe Paint Brush (2”), 2,087 ppm
8.  Globe Paint Brush, (2 1/2”), 1,924 ppm
9.  Globe Paint Brush (3/4 “), 1,495 ppm

Three samples of Mayon paint brushes had non-detectable levels of lead.

The groups observed that none of the leaded paint brushes indicated they had lead, and none provided lead warning labels.

Also, none of the leaded paint brushes gave any precautionary statement that such brushes should not be utilized for food purposes.

As a preventive measure, the EcoWaste Coalition and PEJC advised barbecue vendors to shun paint brushes, and instead use safe and hygienic materials such as improvised brushes made of banana pandan or tanglad leaves.

The groups also urged the local Sanggunian to immediately craft an ordinance that will ban the use of paint brushes for food applications as a precaution against lead contamination, which could result to adverse health effects, especially among children.

Citing information from the World Health Organization (WHO), the groups warned that lead “is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurological, haematological, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and renal systems.”

WHO emphasized that “children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead, and even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and, in some cases, irreversible neurological damage.”

Echoing WHO’s suggestion, the groups said that “primary prevention (i.e. the elimination of exposure to lead at its source) is the single most effective intervention against childhood lead poisoning.”