Environment ministers who attended the just-ended United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) have committed to ending the amount of lead in paints.

Statistics from the UN Environment indicate that nearly half a million people around the world died from exposure to lead. Every year more than 600 000 children suffer brain damage due to exposure to lead.

A typical day at a garage in Nairobi’s Kariokor area is a hive of activity and everyone has a role to play in ensuring that vehicles are back on the road looking as good as new. Peter Oketch has been painting cars for more than a decade now. It is a job he has mastered going by how he easily mixes his paints and the look of the final product.

Across from him t,wo men in their 20s are scrubbing a vehicle before it is handed over to Oketch for a fresh coat of paint. Close to 1000 people work there every day.  The SABC visited the garage for more than three hours and saw no one wearing protective clothing.

As experts begin the process of testing for lead levels in those who work in the garage – they open up about health issues that they have suffered.

“Mostly it is chest pains, and when you come from a paint job, you find you will be feeling dizzy,” says Oketch.

Experts point a finger at the high amounts of lead in paints used

Garage owner in Nairobi Francis Matheka says: “A lot of our colleagues have died, and when they go to hospital doctors tell them their liver, lungs or kidneys have been affected. We believe it has something to do with the elements in the paints that they use.”

Experts point a finger at the high amounts of lead in the paints that they use for their work daily.  “There are several sources of lead, one of them is the paints that we are dealing with,” says environmentalist Francis Kariuki.

Toxicologist Dr Kimani Njoroge says: “Lead is a cumulative toxin and it brings in a lot of issues in the human body, people may not be able to realise it.”

Only 36%, that is about 62 out of 192 countries have legal limits on lead and yet the world has set itself an ambitious target of ending lead in paints by 2020.

“We want to really also influence policy, to go to the policy makers and ask them to remove lead from paints,” says Njoroge.

At the just concluded UNEA, Kenya was among countries that committed to ending lead in paints.

“All the stakeholders should not sit back and pass resolutions without action,” says Njoroge.

If events at Jua Kali Kariokor are anything to go by, then urgent action is needed.