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Health and Wellness

EcoWaste Coalition: Get Toxic Lead Out of Paints and Paint Brushes, Too

(New report finds paint brushes with lead content)

12 July 2023, Quezon City. The toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition has expressed concern over the continued sale of lead-coated paint brushes, which are often misused for food preparations.

As part of its continuing campaign to eliminate lead, a highly toxic chemical, in paints and allied products to protect the health of children and people, the group conducted a follow-up investigation to determine the availability of lead-containing paint brushes after the Philippines phased out leaded paints.

The release of the report “Toxic Lead in Paint Brushes Sold in the Philippines” coincided with the second anniversary of the prestigious Future Policy Award received by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in July 2021 for the Chemical Control Order (CCO) it promulgated in 2013 banning lead in paint manufacturing.

“Our latest study has revealed the widespread sale of lead-containing paint brushes despite the national ban on lead-containing paints. With the completion of the phase-out deadlines for leaded decorative paints in 2016 and leaded industrial paints in 2019, we find it essential that materials used for painting works such as paint brushes are safe from lead,” said Manny Calonzo of the EcoWaste Coalition.

Paint brushes
Analyzed paint brushes found coated with lead-containing paints

“The misuse of paint brushes for food preparations, particularly for spreading barbecue sauce, butter, glaze or oil on food, makes it all the more urgent for paint brush makers and sellers, including those engaged in online sale, to ensure that only lead-safe paint brushes are made available to consumers, while national and local government authorities take steps to halt such misuse of paint brushes for food purposes,” he said.

The group’s advocacy has attracted support from other stakeholders, particularly from the Philippine Paint and Coatings Association or PPCA (formerly known as the Philippine Association of Paint Manufacturers or the PAPM).

“PPCA-affiliated manufacturers have diligently abided by the national ban on lead in paint. It is only logical that tools like brushes used for applying lead-free paints are not contaminated with lead,” said Diosdado Cheng, Secretary, PPCA, who also noted that paint brushes are sourced overseas, mainly from China and the USA, and are a hardware product outside the control of the paint industry association. “We take positive note of this latest initiative by our civil society partner, the EcoWaste Coalition, to promote adherence to the lead paint ban and encourage paint brush makers and suppliers to switch to non-lead paints.”

Studies conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition in 2013 and 2018 while the Philippines was transitioning to non-lead paint manufacturing pursuant to the CCO showed the prevalence of leaded paint brushes in the market.

For its latest investigation, the group collected a total of 95 paint brushes representing 50 brands that were purchased from 62 general merchandise, hardware and home improvement stores, as well as from online sellers, in 13 cities in Metro Manila. The surface coatings of the paint brushes were then screened for lead using an Olympus Vanta M Series X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer, a handheld device used for non-destructive element analysis.

According to the report, lead above the regulatory limit of 90 parts per million (ppm) was detected in 79 of 95 paint brushes, particularly in the mostly yellow-coated handles. Of these leaded paint brushes, 11 were found to contain lead exceeding 10,000 ppm, 37 had over 5,000 ppm, and 70 had lead above 1,000 ppm.

None of the 79 lead-containing paint brushes provided lead hazard warning on the product label. Also, there was no precautionary statement on the label that such brushes should not be used for food preparations.

Toxic paint brushes

Using paint brushes, which are non-food grade utensils, may pose a lead contamination risk, especially when the lead painted handle has started to crumble due to repeated use and exposure to heat when used near cooking setups, the EcoWaste Coalition said. The chalking, chipping or peeling lead paint on the handle of these brushes may get onto the sauce, butter, glaze or oil that is applied on food and into someone’s mouth.

A review of the toxicity of lead states that “lead is thought to be quickly absorbed in the bloodstream and is believed to have adverse effects on certain organ systems like the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, kidneys, and the immune system,” the report noted.

Also, the flaking of the lead-coated handles of such brushes, which can occur with repeated use, may result in the unintentional contamination of the paint that does not contain lead, and should be avoided.

As paint brushes are commonly used for other purposes at home, school or office, it is important that such brushes do not pose lead-based paint hazards, the EcoWaste Coalition emphasized.

To address the issue, the EcoWaste Coalition proposed several action points, including the following:

For paint brush manufacturers to use lead-safe paints in decorating paint brushes, and to provide adequate labeling information, including a precautionary warning stating that paint brushes are not suitable for food-related applications.

For hardware stores and other retailers, including online sellers, to demand certified lead-safe paint brushes from suppliers and desist from selling lead-containing paint brushes.

For consumers to ask for lead-safe paints, as well as lead-safe paint brushes, and to only use hygienic food grade basting mops, including those made from banana, lemongrass or pandan leaves.

For the government to strictly enforce the ban on lead-containing paints in the production of paint brushes and other home improvement products.


  1. “Toxic Lead in Paint Brushes Sold in the Philippines”
  2. Future Policy Award (special category on lead paint elimination)
EcoWaste Coalition
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