Quezon City. On the eve of Valentine’s Day and the scene is set for romance – hearts and flowers, mugs and shot glasses, stuffed toys and animal figurines. But wait, some of these products might be “Valentoxic,” cautioned the EcoWaste Coalition.
“Valentoxic” is a portmanteau of the words “Valentine" and “toxic,” coined by the group for Valentine’s gifts and other accessories that are laced with harmful chemicals.
This was revealed by the EcoWaste Coalition's Task Force on Chemical Safety during its recent test buys of common Valentine’s gifts and other romantic miscellany from formal and informal retailers in Divisoria and Sta. Cruz, Manila.
The group screened 38 items using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, all of which were detected with high levels of multiple heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, antimony, chromium and mercury.
Of the 38 samples, 76% (29 out of 38) tested positive for lead, 68% (26 out of 38) for arsenic, 61% (23 out of 38) for cadmium, 58% (22 out of 38) for antimony, 26% (10 out of 38) for chromium, and 10.5% (4 out of 38) for mercury.
Among the most “Valentoxic” products tested were ceramic mugs, all of which were found laced with toxic metals above levels of concern. Ironically, seven of these tainted mugs have license to operate (LTO) stickers, supposedly indicating compliance to required documentary and safety requirements.
“Our scientific findings show that some Valentine’s gifts, particularly mugs with heart and love theme, are laced with hazardous substances that may cause harm to the people we love,” said Thony Dizon of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
The top 5 most “toxic” mugs as shown by the XRF tests were:
1. A mug with a big pink heart and red design yielded the highest amounts of lead (40,700 ppm), arsenic (5,661 ppm), cadmium (5,432 ppm), and antimony (1,429 ppm) among tested items.
2. A mug that has a “Crazy Love” text had lead (35,600 ppm), arsenic (5,175 ppm) cadmium (3,452 ppm) and antimony (988 ppm).
3. A yellow mug with a teddy bear holding a heart that says “I love you” had lead (23,700 ppm), arsenic (3,869 ppm) and antimony (866 ppm).
4. A blue mug with a teddy bear holding a heart that says “I love you” had lead (16,200 ppm), arsenic (2,542 lead) and antimony (335 ppm).
5. A white mug with “I love you” text and a checkered black and white heart had lead (13,300 ppm), arsenic (1,946 ppm), cadmium (3,368 ppm) and antimony (575 ppm).
Traces of heavy metals were also detected in some samples of synthetic roses, stuffed hearts with saccharine messages, animal figurines and a shot glass.
Arsenic, cadmium lead and mercury are included in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 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 WHO, “intake of inorganic arsenic over a long period can lead to chronic arsenic poisoning (arsenicosis) and effects, which can take years to develop depending on the exposure level, include skin lesions, peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.”
The WHO has warned that “cadmium exerts toxic effects on the kidney, the skeletal and the respiratory systems, and is classified as a human carcinogen,” while lead “is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems.”
Dizon revealed that “none of the samples disclosed complete product label information, making consumers unaware about the manufacturers’ details, possible chemical contents and health warnings.”
Those that are most vulnerable to heavy metal poisoning include fetuses, young children, pregnant women and workers exposed to a combination of harmful chemicals in their routine jobs.
Citing information from the WHO, Dizon said that “lead absorbed by the fetus may cause adverse complications during the mother’s pregnancy, including miscarriage, premature birth or low birth-weight.”
“While not as susceptible as children, lead exposure in adults can cause neurological, cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, haematological and reproductive effects,” he added.
The WHO has warned that “there is no known safe blood lead level but it is known that, as lead exposure increases, the range and severity of symptoms and effects also increases.”
Dizon reminded the public that “Valentine’s Day is a significant celebration for each one of us and the ones we love, and we can demonstrate a little extra love for the environment by cautiously considering the things we buy.”
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.