Painting the future

Paint and other protective coatings have been around for hundreds of years and their use is twofold – decorative and protective. However, some of these coatings unbeknown to the user, are dangerous not just for the environment, but for all living things including humans.

Some conventional paints and many related products, contain harmful chemicals, such as solvents and metals. These products give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals. These chemicals can lead to indoor air quality problems and they also pose serious health risks.

In individuals who are exposed to high levels of VOCs for long periods of time, like professional painters, may suffer damage to their liver, kidneys and nervous system.

Young children are particularly vulnerable according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Children absorb four to five times as much ingested lead as adults from a given source. Moreover, children’s innate curiosity and their age-appropriate hand-to-mouth behaviour result in their mouthing and swallowing lead-containing or lead-coated objects, such as contaminated soil or dust and flakes of decaying lead-containing paint. This route of exposure is magnified in children with pica (persistent and compulsive cravings to eat non-food items), who may, for example pick away at, and eat, leaded paint from walls, door frames and furniture.

Across the world, consumers are being made aware of these harmful dangers by organisations who also apply pressure onto suppliers to make the products safer and more environmentally friendly.

The SA Paint Manufacturing Association (SAPMA) has been pioneering an anti-lead campaign in Africa.

It had taken a leading role in voluntarily eliminating soluble lead in the early 1970s, in line with British and European standards, as well the establishment of the legislation under the auspices of the Hazardous Substance Act which was promulgated in 2009.

SAPMA has also continuously proclaimed that companies still using lead pigments in the production of enamel paints, should be prosecuted under the terms of local legislation.

However, SAPMA feels strongly that perpetrators will continue offending because lead pigments are cheaper than alternatives, unless they are prosecuted.

SAPMA met the SA Department of Health Director General, in Pretoria recently and pointed out that SAPMA was now committed to totally freeing the coatings industry of lead in paint. This decision was reached because of the confusion in different legislation regarding lead in paint as far as industrial and solvn-based paints were concerned. All major members of the paint industry decided to simply discontinue the use of lead pigments in all paints manufactured in South Africa. However, this will not be completely possible if the legislation prohibiting the use of lead in paint is not government-monitored and regulated through the prosecution of offenders.

SAPMA furthermore urged the Department of Health, which is apparently experiencing difficulty in carrying out sampling studies of paint in retail outlets, to urgently introduce a total ban on lead in paint and immediately start prosecuting offending manufacturers.

Consumers have their eyes wide open and are making more educated choices when it comes to safer, environmentally friendly products. Historically, the preference in South Africa, in the 50s and 60s was to paint all schools and hospitals with bright-coloured enamel paints (usually green red and yellow). The theory was that the degradation of the paint on the walls resulted in very high lead blood levels in children (from peeling paint and dust), resulting in poor mental development, learning disabilities and low IQ scores.

The onus is placed on paint manufacturers to get creative and make its products acceptable to the market, whilst maintaining the quality, finish and product performance expected by customers. This applies to all products – from gloss enamel paints, through to varnishes and even automotive paints. “In fact, today all large construction projects are specified with the regulations of the Green Building Council of South Africa, says Ron Lawson of Excelsior Paints.

“The coatings specified on these projects need to have a declared maximum level of VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds)  content to achieve Green Star building status,” adds Lawson. The VOC in paint is the component that contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming.

The two main strategies being used by paint manufacturers to reduce VOC levels have been increasing the proportion of solids while retaining organic solvents at a lower level, or moving totally to water-based systems.

The emphasis on the environment and safety has forever shifted the parameters of paint manufacturers.

“Before the worldwide drive to safer paints, lead was common, but after its ban on domestic paints because of its toxicity, most paints now contain white titanium dioxide and alternative lead-free pigments,” says Lawson.

“Today the average consumer is more aware of what goes into products and is putting the needs of their families and environment first. The manufacturer who ignores this trend does so at their peril, “concludes Lawson.


A key priority in Dulux’s product innovation and development is reducing the environmental impact of the decorating process. This can be achieved in a number of ways, including replacing solvent-based formulations with water-based, creating products with minimal VOC content, and maximising durability to extend maintenance cycles. Dulux also design products that have a positive impact such as the Dulux Trade Ecosure product range.

Another way to lower carbon footprint is with durability. Dulux has developed formulations with increased durability such as Dulux Trade 100 low sheen and Dulux Trade 50 Matt for when a project needs a finish that will stand the test of time. Extending maintenance cycles not only means lower maintenance and product costs but also the use of fewer resources and a lower carbon footprint over the life of a building.

If however the project demands regular updates due to fashion or consumer demands then products with lower embodied carbon and standard durability will be the lower impact and the more economical solution. Thus, by ensuring you’re matching the demands of your building to the performance of the products you’ll always be having the lowest impact.

Prominent Paints

Prominent Paints uses the term Ecological Solutions to refer to products whose manufacturing, purchase and use reduce the environmental and social impacts compared to other products. As a subsidiary of PPG, Prominent Paints is committed to manufacturing and marketing paint products that are 100% lead free, adhere to international best practices and recognise and promote the drive towards environmental sustainability. In other words, the products are kinder by design, kinder to the environment and kinder to your health. In keeping with the Ecological Solutions philosophy Prominent Paints undertakes to offer and develop products that constantly raise and exceed the standard in this regard.

Prominent Paints offers numerous green benefits such as high opacity levels, which mean that because thinner coats are used, less paint is required. The durability of its products also means that surfaces don’t need to be recoated as often. High spread rates offered by our products also mean that less paint is required to cover a surface.

Prominent Paints water based colourants, unique in the South African market, further ensure that even after tinting, its products remain low in VOCs without compromising on the colour fastness.

As a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa its low VOC products adequately conform to the *Green Star Office v1 rating tool and even go far beyond industry and government standards by ensuring all products are also lead free, AEOP free and formaldehyde free.

Excelsior Paints

Excelsior Paints has a comprehensive range of low VOC paint. This Enviro-Range is a zero odour, zero VOC, high-quality paint, and is perfect for use where people suffer from respiratory problems or allergies. The range includes a matt acrylic, a washable low sheen acrylic, gloss and satin trim paints, and range of environmentally friendly primers for use both indoors and outdoors, and is designed to conform for projects where the Green Building Council of South Africa requirements need to be met.

The issue of safer products that goes hand-in-glove with environmental concerns is sustainability, and Excelsior applies several principles to all its operations, such as amounts of energy and resource such as water and electricity used as well as steps to reduce wastage and recycling where possible.


Sancryl currently manufactures a range of acrylic binders, dispersants, defoamers, deflocculants, antiscalants, sequestrants, biocides and specialty surfactants for the paint, coatings, water treatment, detergent, textiles and Ceramic industries. Sancryl trades in a number of allied products providing a ‘one stop shop’ for the paint industry. Sancryl is also a supplier of a eco friendly range of raw materials for the paint industry.

* The Green Star SA environmental rating system for buildings was developed by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA).  Green Star SA is a comprehensive rating system for evaluating the environmental design and performance of South African buildings based on a number of criteria
Green Star SA Office v1 validates the environmental initiatives of new commercial office buildings or base building commercial office refurbishments.


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