While the United States effectively banned lead-based paint in 1978, in many developing countries—even after decades of research showing how lead is linked to learning disabilities, lower IQ, and other health effects in children—the element is still abundantly applied in paint products, with lead concentrations sometimes up to 100 times higher than what’s permitted in the US.
The Philippines had long been a prime example of this. Just ten years ago, local activist Manny Calonzo decided to test the paint in his home country—the first person to publicly do so. Calonzo had long been involved in consumer safety, working for Consumers International in Penang, Malaysia, in the late 90s. After he returned to his home country, in 2008, he became president of pollution watchdog EcoWaste Coalition, a network of more than 150 environmental groups based in Quezon City.
Mombasa, Kenya (CNN)On a hot afternoon at a sprawling settlement on the outskirts of Mombasa, Phyllis Omido makes her rounds.
For close to a decade, Omido has been visiting the Owino Uhuru village, monitoring the various illnesses, deaths, and miscarriages that have occurred since a nearby smelter contaminated the village's air and water with lead.
There is the kind of lead poisoning that creeps into water supplies, builds up in children’s blood streams, and, if sustained, will impair their brains. And then there is the kind, much rarer, that makes fully grown adults drop dead.