17 May 2009

Green Group Raises Red Flag vs. Toxic School Supplies

Quezon City. As parents shop for new school supplies for the incoming academic year, a public interest group working on chemical safety warned against “toxic buys” that can expose kids to harmful chemicals.

The EcoWaste Coalition pressed for consumer vigilance against school items that contain dangerous substances such as those described as “intellectual robbers” or chemicals that can get in the way of a child’s mental and behavioral development.

“Back-to-school shopping can be woefully toxic,” lamented Sonia Mendoza of the EcoWaste Coalition and the Mother Earth Foundation.

“Whether you bargain hunt in Divisoria or buy in mall shops, you will be swamped with colorful and trendy items containing lots of chemicals that can pose significant health risks, especially in growing kids,” she observed.

“We are particularly uneasy with the obviously unregulated glut of school supplies that are made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic such as backpacks, binders, lunch boxes and clear plastic sheets as book and notebook cover. Consumers need to be watchful of these toxic buys,”
Mendoza said.

“Teachers should not require students to use plastic sheets as cover for books and notebooks. Manila paper, old calendars and used magazines are good cover materials if covers are required. In fact, books and notebooks need not be covered if students take good care of their school things,” she added.

PVC plastic, often labeled as “vinyl” or plastic # 3, contains poisonous additives to soften or stabilize it such as phthalates (pronounced as “thal-ates”) that can eventually seep out or disperse into the air posing risks to children’s health.

An EcoWaste Coalition’s fact sheet on phthalates noted US and European Union decisions to ban the use of phthalates in children’s toys and articles. In the Philippines, Sen. Lito Lapid has filed a bill banning phthalates on cosmetics and personal care products, while Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has a pending bill for phthalate-free toys.

To back its advocacy, the EcoWaste Coalition cited the “Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies” that the US-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) published to empower parents to make smarter and healthier shopping choices.

The CHEJ Guide pointed out that “children are at risk from even small exposure to these toxic chemicals. That’s why it’s especially important to purchase PVC-free school supplies.” It further recommended that consumers avoid three other plastics because of their toxic contents: acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC) and polystyrene (PS).

The disposal of PVC products is also a complicated problem, observed the EcoWaste Coalition, since these products do not biodegrade and discharge dioxins, the most toxic substance known to science, when burned.

“Given the known health and environmental risks, we urge consumers to be on the side of precaution and go for safer, healthy and ecological alternatives to PVC school products,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.

Some of these alternatives include cloth, nylon and polyester backpacks, cardboard, fabric or poly plastic binders, cloth lunch bags, and unlined stainless steel or opaque plastic bottles.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children are exposed to a large number of chemicals of both natural and man-made origin.

Chronic, low-level exposure to various chemicals may result in a number of adverse outcomes, including damage to the nervous and immune systems, impairment of reproductive function and development, cancer, and organ-specific damage, the WHO advised.

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