WHO: Lead paint causes 600,000 cases of intellectual disabilities a year. Chinese migrant workers put a new coat of white paint on pedestrian barriers lining a street in Beijing. UPI/Stephen Shaver | License Photo
NEW YORK, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Countries should strengthen actions to eliminate lead paint, which causes as estimate 600,000 disabilities each year, U.N. health officials in New York say.
Maria Neira, director for Public Health and Environment at the World Health Organization, said 30 countries phased out use of lead paint and the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint has set a target of 70 countries by 2015.
WHO estimated 143,000 deaths per year result from lead poisoning, with lead paint is a major contributor. Exposure contributes to 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year and 99 percent of children affected by high exposure to lead live in low- and middle-income countries.
At high levels of exposure, lead damages the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions and even death. Children who survive such poisoning are often left with intellectual impairment and behavioral disorders, Neira said.
At lower levels of exposure, lead affects brain development in children, resulting in reduced IQ, behavioral changes such as shortened attention span and increased anti-social behavior, and reduced educational attainment. These effects are believed to be irreversible.
Adults are at increased risk of kidney disease and raised blood pressure, Neira said.
Lead paint may be found in the home, on toys, furniture and on other objects. Decaying lead paint on walls, furniture and other interior surfaces creates lead-contaminated dust in the home that young children easily ingest.
"The good news is that exposure to lead paint can be entirely stopped through a range of measures to restrict the production and use of lead paint," Neira said in a statement.