17 May 2010

EcoWaste Coalition Advises Parents to Watch Out for Potentially Toxic School Supplies

Quezon City. A watchdog against toxic chemicals in products has cautioned parents against buying school supplies that can expose children to harmful substances and affect their growth and development.

As parents troop to Divisoria or to their favorite malls and stores for the annual “back-to-school” shopping, the EcoWaste Coalition, a non-governmental organization campaigning for chemical safety, urged them to be critical when making purchase decisions.

At the same time, the group asked the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to conduct a random testing of typical school supplies for priority chemicals of concern to guide parents on which products to avoid.

“It is the responsibility of parents to make informed choices that will protect their children, who are most vulnerable to chemical exposure, from toxins that are lurking in school supplies that they use everyday,” said retired chemist Sonia Mendoza of the Mother Earth Foundation and the EcoWaste Coalition.

“To help parents perform such responsibility for their children’s health, the least the government can do, in the absence of a comprehensive chemicals policy in the country, is to strictly enforce product labeling requirements and issue product safety advisories and precautions on items containing toxic chemicals,” asserted Thony Dizon of the EcoWaste Coalition's Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats).

“To be able to do that, we call upon the government, particularly the DTI, to conduct random testing of usual school supplies, especially those products that are most popular and accessible to bargain hunting shoppers in Divisoria and other similar places,” Dizon added.

The EcoWaste Coalition is particularly concerned with the continued use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or plastic number 3, in school supplies and other children’s articles such as toys.

PVC has been referred to as the “poison plastic” because of the health and environmental hazards it poses from its production (the use of cancer-causing chemicals to manufacture PVC), consumption (the leaching of chemical additives such as cadmium, lead, organotins and phthalates) and disposal (the formation of dioxins when PVC is produced and burned), the EcoWaste Coalition explained.

Phthalates, which are PVC softeners or plasticizers, can leach out or evaporate over time and pose irreparable life-long heath issues such as autism, asthma, and developmental, nervous, reproductive and respiratory problems. Because of the grave risks posed to children’s health, the United States in 2008 banned PVC in toys.

“Children are at risk from even small exposures to these toxic chemicals. That’s why it’s important to purchase PVC-free school supplies,” advised the US-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), an organization founded by Lois Gibbs of the victorious Love Canal struggle in New York against a leaking toxic waste dump.

The EcoWaste Coalition has previously cooperated with CHEJ in releasing a 2008 report on vinyl shower curtains that can discharge toxic chemicals into the air.

The CHEJ has published a “Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies,” which offers practical tips on how to avoid toxic school supplies. Some of these tips include:

1. Avoid backpacks with shiny plastic designs as they often contain PVC and may contain lead.

2. Use cloth lunchboxes or metal lunchboxes. Many lunchboxes are made of PVC, or coated with PVC on the inside.

3. Used cardboard, fabric-covered, or polypropylene binders. Most 3-ring binders are made of PVC.

To download the wallet version of the Guide for your shopping needs on the go, please log on to
http://www.chej.org/publications/PVCGuide/PVCwallet.pdf

Here are the more specific tips from CHEJ to help you make safer and non-toxic choices for your children's health and future:

A. Art Supplies
Avoid modeling clays made of PVC. Polymer clays are often loaded with phthalates. Look for clays made without PVC and phthalates, or make your own (recipes are available online such as at http://www.theholidayzone.com/ recipes/dough.html).

B. Backpacks
Avoid backpacks with shiny plastic designs as they often contain PVC and may contain lead.

C. Clothing and Accessories
Look for PVC-free materials in rainwear (i.e. rain boots and raincoats), prints on clothing, and accessories such as handbags, jewelry and belts.

In purchasing accessories like purses and jewelry, look for fabrics and other materials rather than plastics. Choices include jacquards, velvets, crinkled crepes, satins, wood, metals, pearls, rhinestones, etc.

D. Electronics
Avoid electronics manufacturers who have not committed to phasing out PVC and other toxic chemicals in their production. For a list of companies that are going PVC-free, consult the latest edition of Greenpeace’s Greener Electronics Guide that can be found that can be found at http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/campaigns/toxics/hi-tech-highly-toxic

Buy electronics from companies who have pledged to responsibly “take it back” at the end of its useful life.

E. Food Wrap
Use PVC-free butcher paper, waxed paper, parchment paper, low density polyethylene (LDPE) or cellulose bags.

Ask the manager of your grocery store to stock PVC-free food wrap for meats and cheeses in the deli.

F. Lunchboxes
Use cloth lunch bags or metal lunchboxes. Many lunch boxes are made of PVC, or coated with PVC on the inside.

G. Notebooks
Avoid notebooks containing metal spirals encased in colored plastic. The colored plastic coating on the metal spirals usually contains PVC. Select notebooks with uncovered metal spirals to avoid PVC.

H. Organizers and address books
Choose organizers/ address books made with sustainably harvested wood, metal, or paper covers. Avoid those made of plastic – these sometimes contain PVC.

I. Packaging of School Supplies
Avoid single-use disposable packaging whenever possible.

Avoid the three-arrow "recycling" symbol with the number 3 and/or the initials PVC; indicating it’s made with PVC. If no symbol is present, call the manufacturer's question/ comment line listed on the package to find out what it’s made of.

Avoid products packaged in unlabeled plastics, such as clamshells and blister packs, which may contain PVC.

Choose products with packaging made from more easily recycled materials like paper (look for those with higher post-consumer recycled content), paperboard, and glass.

J. Paperclips
Stick to the plain metal paperclips. Colored paper clips are coated with PVC.

K. Three-Ring Binders
Use cardboard, fabric-covered, or polypropylene binders. Most 3-ring binders are made of PVC

L. Umbrellas
Avoid shiny and colorful plastic umbrellas as these are typically made out of PVC. Look for those made out of other materials such as nylon.

M. Utensils and Dishware
Use stainless steel utensils. If you require disposable dinnerware, look for bio-based (made with PLA or PHA plastics) cutlery and plates.

Use glass or stainless steel drinking containers. If you require plastic, avoid PVC, polystyrene (PS) and polycarbonate (PC) plastics.

Never microwave with plastics. Use glass, stoneware, or ceramic dishware and containers instead. Heating plastic increases the chances of chemical additives such as bisphenol A, phthalates or other additives leaching into food and beverages.

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