05 February 2013

Toxic Metals in Chinese New Year Lucky Charms, Detected ("Baby Boom" Amulet Found with Highest Level of Lead - A Chemical that Increases Risk of Miscarriage and Premature Birth)

A consumer safety watchdog discovered dangerous chemicals in 28 lucky charms and accessories, including a Chi Lin (Dragon Horse) amulet that is supposedly “the bearer of fortune gift – the gift of a baby.”

With only a few days left before the Chinese New Year, the EcoWaste Coalition’s Task Force Chemical Safety revealed that toxic metals such as chromium, lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and antimony were detected in 28 out of 30 samples after subjecting them to chemical analysis using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device.

Of the 30 samples, 60% (18 out of 30) were detected positive for chromium, 43% (13 out of 30) for lead, 30% (9 out of 30) for arsenic, 20% (6 out of 30) for antimony, 13% (4 out of 30) for cadmium, and 10% (3 out of 30) for mercury.

The samples were purchased on January 31, 2013 from shops and vendors in Manila’s Binondo District, also known as Chinatown, the center of various activities ushering in the beginning of another Chinese lunar year – the Year of the Water Snake.

Among the samples tested were amulets, animal figurines, baguas, bracelets, hanging decor, iconic figurines such as Buddha and Confucius, urns, and other fortune enhancers and good health activators.

“Lucky charms which are believed to produce a positive influence over a person’s good health and fortune should not contain hazardous substances that bring adverse health effects,” said Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

Lucero called attention to a yellow-gold Chi Lin amulet intended for childless couples that registered with the highest level of lead at 47,400 parts per million (ppm), way beyond the 100 ppm limit for toys and children’s articles under the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

“Lead is extremely toxic and can be passed from a mother to her unborn child.  Too much lead in a mother’s body increases the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth , premature birth and low weight birth and may cause the child to have behavioral or learning difficulties.  This makes the use of lead in a ‘baby boom’ amulet bizarre and unacceptable,” she explained.
The XRF tests indicated that:

1. A yellow-gold Chi Lin amulet had 47, 400 ppm of lead and 1,350 ppm of chromium.

2. A door decor with red and yellow beads registered the highest amounts of cadmium and antimony with 15,200 ppm and 3,357 ppm.

3. A yellow and green Confucius figurine with a red base had 8,801 ppm of lead, 5,359 ppm of chromium, 1,069 ppm of arsenic, and 12 ppm of mercury.

4. One of the three baguas registered 4,399 ppm of lead, 2,212 ppm of chromium, 531 ppm of arsenic, and 31 ppm of mercury – the highest among all samples.

5. Six of the nine snake lucky charms tested positive for chromium ranging from 103 ppm to 972 ppm.

6. Four out of five bracelets tested positive for multiple toxic metals. A yellow-gold bracelet registered 9,092 ppm of cadmium, 1,906 ppm antimony, 502 ppm chromium, and 426 ppm arsenic. Another yellow bracelet registered 10,300 ppm of cadmium and 2,095 ppm of antimony. Another bracelet registered 2,702 ppm of cadmium, 823 ppm of arsenic, 596 ppm of antimony, 319 ppm of chromium, and 8.7 ppm of mercury. Lastly, a lion bracelet registered 1,381 ppm of antimony, 225 ppm of lead, 106 ppm of chromium, and 46 ppm of arsenic.

Arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury are included in the World Health Organization’s list of “Ten Chemicals of Major Public Health Concern” and are likewise categorized, along with chromium, in the “Priority Chemicals List” of the Philippines.

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), “lead is a heavy metal that is toxic at very low exposure levels and has acute and chronic effects on human health,” as “it is a multi-organ system toxicant that can cause neurological, cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, haematological and reproductive effects.”

On the other hand, UNEP categorized cadmium as a “non-essential and toxic element for humans mainly affecting kidneys and the skeleton.”

UNEP added that cadmium "is also a carcinogen by inhalation and is accumulated in bone and may serve as a source of exposure later in life."

“Toxic chemicals have no room in auspicious materials that Filipinos find in Chinatown in anticipation of good luck and as defense against misfortune. Manufacturers should get rid of toxic ingredients in their raw materials and look for safer alternatives, and disclose full chemical information on product labels,” she pointed out.

“Toxic-free products are health-benefitting to the workforces who create them, to the consuming public who patronize them, and to the waste personnel and recyclers whose daily exposure to a mixture of chemicals takes its toll on their wellbeing,” she added.

The EcoWaste Coalition is a national network of more than 150 public interest groups pursuing sustainable and just solutions to waste, climate change and chemical issues towards the envisioned Zero Waste 2020 goal.


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