03 December 2009

Bad Shoes Stink: RP Shoes Tested Positive with Environmental Toxicants

Quezon City. Ordinary leather shoe samples from the Philippines and five other countries contain various environmental toxicants that can spread into the users and the ecosystems.

The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental group promoting consumer safety from toxic chemicals, made this revelation as it released today the new report “Bad Shoes Stink” published by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC).

SSNC, Sweden’s biggest and oldest environmental organization at 100 years old, had 21 pairs of shoes tested for certain hazardous chemicals, of which 11 pairs were purchased in Sweden, and two pairs each from South Africa, Uganda, Belarus, India and the Philippines.

The EcoWaste Coalition bought two pairs of branded leather shoes (Bandolino and Rusty Lopez) from SM Centerpoint in Sta. Mesa, Manila and sent them to SSNC via DHL for analyses that were performed at Swedish laboratories Swerea IVF and Eurofins.

The international product survey was conducted to increase awareness among producers, retailers, and consumers on what chemicals can be found in leather shoes - which are linked to the wide range of chemicals used in the tanning, preservation and dyeing of the leather - so that they can demand products free of problematic chemicals.

Among the chemicals that were analyzed include metals (arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc), carcinogenic aromatic amines from azo dyes, chlorinated phenols, ortho-phenylphenol, 2,4,6-tribromophenol, dimethylfumarate, formaldehyde and chlorinated paraffins.

Seven of these chemicals (arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, pentachlorophenol, and formaldehyde) are included in the priority chemicals list of the Philippines. These are chemicals that the Department of Environment and Natural Resouces has ascertained as potentially posing unwarranted risks to public health, workplace and the environment.

”The scientific investigation by SSNC found a cocktail of chemicals in the shoe samples bought in six countries that can put workers, consumers and the environment at risk during the entire life cycle of the shoes,” said Manny Calonzo, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

”For public safety and environmental health, we urge the authorities to enact and enforce policies that will prohibit dangerous chemicals in consumer products, especially those that can cause carcinogenic, hormone damaging and allergenic hazards, and promote safe substitutes,” he added.

One shoe sample from the Philippines (a Rusty Lopez dark brown leather shoe for men) ranked first in benzidine (a carcinogenic aromatic amine), cadmium and nickel, second in chromium, and third in arsenic and lead in the 21 pairs tested. The other shoe sample from the Philippines (a Bandolino black boots for women) ranked first in cobalt, third in chromium and fourth in arsenic and mercury.

The most serious finding of the study is that tons of trivalent chromium derived from the tanning of leather is spread into environment every year when the shoes are eventually disposed of as waste. Chromium tanning accounts for some 80-85% of all tanning globally.

Upon incineration, open burning or landfilling of leather waste containing chromium, the most common and least toxic trivalent form of chromium may oxidize into the highly toxic and carcinogenic hexavalent form.

“The hexavalent chromium that has not been cleaned from the flue gases is spread into the environment. It can be breathed in, absorbed via the skin, pollute watercourses and cause harm to humans and other organisms,” said Andreas Prevodnik, SSNC project manager for the leather shoe study.

Apart from trivalent chromium, the study also found azo dyes in two of the 21 pairs - from the Philippines and Sweden - that can degrade into carcinogenic aromatic amines or produce allergenic effects. The Philippine sample contained 68 mg/kg of benzidine, which is more than twice the acceptable limit of 30 mg/kg stipulated under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical Substances (REACH) of the European Union.

The azo dyes, which are leached out from the leather by perspiration, can be converted into carcinogenic aromatic amines and can be absorbed into the skin when the shoes are being worn. Azo dyes in waste that is disposed of in dumpsites or landfills can also give rise to aromatic amines, which are spread into the environment with the effluent from the tips.

The DENR has confirmed with the EcoWaste Coalition that the country has no regulation yet on azo dyes, and while chromium compounds are regulated, they are not banned.

To protect the public and the environment from hazardous chemicals, the EcoWaste Coalition and the SSNC put forward several recommendations addressed to the government, the industry and the consumers.

For the Government:
- implement legislation prohibiting hazardous chemicals in consumer products
- promote globally binding agreements for the phase out of hazardous chemicals from the materials flow in human society
- classify chromium containing waste as potentially hazardous
- improve the management of hazardous waste.

For the Industry:
- demand full information from the supplier/upstream manufacturer on the materials and contents of hazardous chemicals in the shoes you intend to purchase or place an order on
- phase out substances that are harmful to health and the environment
- increase the use of chromium-free leather in the shoe production, and support development of alternatives to chromium tanning
- produce and sell shoes of high quality and long durability
- eco-label shoe products

For the Consumers:
- ask for chromium-free leather
- buy only shoes you need
- use shoes as long as possible, and take them to the shoemaker if they need to be mended
- do not dump or burn discarded shoes

“In line with the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, we request the DENR and other agencies to strengthen policy and regulatory frameworks on priority chemicals of concern and ensure their full enforcement for public health and safety,” the EcoWaste Coalition stated.

Notes:

1. Please see the attached report “Bad Shoes Stink” for details.

2. To download free publicity images of the tested shoes, please see:
http://www.naturskyddsforeningen.se/press/pressbilder/l├Ąderskor

3. For more information, please contact:

Andreas Prevodnik, SSNC project manager for the tests +46 (0)70-970 41 29
andreas.prevodnik@naturskyddsforeningen.se

Manny Calonzo, EcoWaste Coalition president, 0922-8286343
mcalonzo@no-burn.org

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