Watchdog Finds Mercury in Crayons and Pencils, Pushes Stricter Limit for Mercury in Children's Products

All children should be able to draw and write without being exposed to the hazards of mercury, an extremely toxic element, in crayons and pencils.
The EcoWaste Coalition, a toxics watchdog, emphasized the right of every child to safe drawing and writing materials following an investigation it initiated that found mercury in dozens of crayon and pencil products bought mainly from Divisoria, the budget shopping paradise.
Of the 22 samples of crayon sets, 18 were found to exceed the allowable limit of 20 parts per million (ppm) under the Philippine National Standards (PNS) for Safety of Toys, the group reported.  Mercury up to 307 ppm was particularly found in purple or violet crayons.
Traces of mercury were also detected in 38 of the 44 pencil samples.  While not exceeding the PNS, the EcoWaste Coalition pointed out that the amounts of mercury, particularly in the ferrules that kids often bite, were above the regulatory limits for mercury in fish (0.5 ppm) and in cosmetics (1 ppm).
“We find it disturbing that mercury, a potent neurotoxin, is present in crayons and pencils that children often put in their mouths, a most prevalent route for mercury intake,” said Aileen Lucero, Acting National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
“Some may say that the amounts of mercury we found in the samples are miniscule, but we must not forget that no level of mercury is safe, especially for children whose developing brains and other vital organs are most vulnerable to the toxic effects of mercury,” she said.
Mercury tends to accumulate in the food chain and the human body, mainly in the brain, liver and kidneys, via ingestion, inhalation or skin absorption, Lucero explained.
“All products meant for use in learning or playing by children should be entirely safe from mercury and other hazards. It is important to eradicate all contributors to childhood exposure to mercury,” she emphasized.
The discovery of mercury in  crayons and pencils (albeit at low levels) prompted the group to push for a stricter limit to minimize children’s exposure to mercury due to their frequent hand-to-mouth activities.
Jeiel Guarino, in-house chemist of the EcoWaste Coalition said  that “regulators should consider revising the current threshold for mercury in toys and related children’s products, which is too weak to adequately protect the health of the Filipino child.”
“Children often bite into and chew on toys and related products such as crayons and pencils, so  mercury as an additive or an impurity should not be present at all in articles that may get into their hands and mouths,” he said.
“While there really is no safe threshold, using the 0.5 ppm limit for mercury in fish or the 1 ppm limit for mercury in cosmetics, rather than 20 ppm, will be a more child-friendly option,” he  said.
If either the said 0.5 ppm or 1 ppm limit is applied, 18 of the crayons and 38 of the pencils screened by the EcoWaste Coalition would have hugely exceeded such a ceiling.


To prevent and reduce children’s exposure to mercury via school supplies, the EcoWaste Coalition advises parents and teachers:
- to supervise kids as they use their crayons and pencils;
- to constantly remind them  not to bite or chew on their drawing and writing tools; and
- to wash their hands after drawing or writing activities, especially before eating.
Out of 22 crayon sets, 18 were found to be contaminated with mercury in the range of 22 to 307 ppm.
7 of the 22 samples had the “non-toxic” mark as required by the Department of Trade and Industry, and 3 of the 7 “non-toxic” crayons had 22, 28 and 251 ppm of mercury, indicating that not all “non-toxic” claims should be taken at face value.
Except for 1 product, all the mercury-positive crayon samples failed to provide complete information about their manufacturers or distributors and their contact details in violation of product labeling requirements.
Among the crayons with the most mercury were:
a. 12-piece “Mingda Colorful Crayons” with 307 ppm of mercury.
b. Nine samples of 8-piece “Jumbo Wax Crayons” featuring famous cartoon figures (Angry Birds, Barbie, Hello Kitty, Spongebob Squarepants, Spiderman, Thomas and Friends, Toy Story and Transformers) with mercury between 250 to 292 ppm.
The crayon samples were obtained from 7 stores mostly located at New Divisoria Mall, 1188 Mall and 168 Mall, all in Divisoria, Manila.
Out of 44 pencil samples, 38 were found to contain traces of mercury from 6 to 16 ppm.  Mercury was specifically detected in the ferrules, or the metal ring that holds the eraser.
Low levels of lead were also found in half of the samples, but lead above the US limit of 90 ppm was found in a “Made in China 6181 HB”pencil (324 ppm at the pencil’s body) and “Goliath 908 HB” (340 ppm at pencil’s ferrule).
The pencils were procured from stationery shops in Juan Luna St. New Divisoria Mall and Tutuban Mall in Divisoria and from major school supplies stores in Quiapo and Sta. Cruz.