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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Emerging Issues: Lead in Paint

Daniel A. Reifsnyder
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
nternational Conference on Chemicals Management
Geneva, Switzerland
May 11, 2009


 Thank you for the opportunity to speak to an issue that we in the United States have historically made a high priority: Phasing out lead in paint and otherwise reducing human exposure to lead.

It would be difficult in some ways to describe this as an “emerging issue,” but it is a critical issue and we have an important opportunity here to do something significant about it.

We all know that lead-exposure is a danger to human health and that it is our children, with their small bodies and developing brains, who are in particular danger when they are exposed to lead. Even low-level lead poisoning can lead to decreased intelligence, learning problems, failure to grow and impaired hearing. Lead poisons indiscriminately, and societies around the world are affected when our children can’t grow up to be healthy productive citizens.

As early as 1978 the United States took the initiative to ban lead or limit lead in residential paint. In the three decades since, the United States phased out lead in gasoline, reduced lead in drinking water and industrial air pollution, and banned or limited lead in consumer products. Internationally, the United States is proud of our partnership with UNEP and others to phase out lead in gasoline in Africa and throughout the world.

We also know that phasing out lead is not enough to protect our children because a toxic legacy remains - including lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust and lead-contaminated soil. This legacy could be mitigated if we work together to phase out lead in paint as soon as possible, so that generations to come do not suffer the impact of low-level lead exposure.

In conjunction with ongoing U.S. actions, the issue of phasing out lead in paint was presented at the recent G8 Summit where it was recognized as a relevant concern that deserved rapid action.

For this reason, in order to better protect children from the toxic effects of lead exposure, the United States agrees to participate in a global partnership, to phase-out the use of lead in paints, to increase awareness regarding the hazards of lead, and to support exposure prevention programs that work toward eliminating lead in paint.

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