Independence Day Souvenir Items Found Laced with Lead and Other Toxic Chemicals (Watchdog Says Flag and Other National Symbols Should be Toxics-Free)

Independence Day souvenir items with low or non-detectable heavy metals (above) and those with lead and other harmful chemicals (below).

Some souvenir items bearing images of the National Flag and the National Coat of Arms were found to contain injurious chemicals, a health and environmental watchdog revealed on the eve of the 115th anniversary of the country’s declaration of independence from Spain.

The EcoWaste Coalition bared its toxic findings after analyzing 25 samples of souvenir products that it procured from retailers in Quiapo, Manila City and Cubao, Quezon City.

Using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer, the group uncovered lead and other harmful substances in 18 of the 25 samples (72%), mainly on the flag and coat of arms designs of metallic key holders and pins.

“The lead levels found on the paints used for the flag and coat of arms motifs of the souvenir articles we screened are among the highest we ever detected,”observed Aileen Lucero, Acting National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

“Considering our shocking discovery, we find it apt that R.A. 8491, or the 'Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines,' be amended to prohibit the use of leaded paint and other hazardous materials in the making of our flag and other national symbols and in products featuring such symbols.  These revered symbols of our nationhood should be toxics-free, posing no risks to human health and the environment,” she stated.

“While leaded decorative paint is highly regulated in many countries, the Aquino government  has been slow in adopting a solid policy that will phase out and ultimately ban its manufacture and use in consumer products, as well as in homes, schools, playgrounds and other places where children frequently gather,” Lucero noted.

“Eliminating toxic products and replacing them with clean and safe ones should be a rallying point in our nation’s uphill struggle for chemical safety, public health and zero waste,” she stressed.

Among the flag-based souvenir items with lead exceeding the US limit of 90 parts per million (ppm) for lead in paint and surface coatings include:

1. A shot glass with embossed flag (P69.75), 60,400 ppm
2. A silver key chain with vertical flag (P40), 58,100 ppm
3. A “National Coat of Arms” pin (P40), 37,800 ppm
4. A silver key chain with waving flag (P40), 34,100 ppm
5. A vertical flag pin (P 40), 26,100 ppm
6. A round key chain with flag on a pole (P40), 14,800 ppm
7. A waving flag pin (P49.75), 13,400 ppm
8. A silver key chain with plastic-coated straight flag (P99.75), 12,100
9. A golden “National Coat of Arms” key chain (P100), 12,000 ppm
10. A horizontal straight flag pin (P49.75), 10,400 ppm
11. A white mug with waving flag (P100), 9,608 ppm
12. A golden flag key chain and bottle opener, (P55), 8,696 ppm

Aside from lead, the shot glass also had 6,251 ppm of arsenic, 2,889 ppm of cadmium, 365 ppm of antimony and 891 ppm of chromium.

Samples of miniature cloth and paper flags showed no detectable levels of lead, but a plastic one yielded 877 ppm of lead.

Exposure to lead, a highly hazardous chemical, can bring about a variety of adverse health effects, especially for foetuses, infants and young children, including damage to the brain and the central nervous system, delayed mental and physical development, attention and learning problems and hearing difficulties, the EcoWaste Coalition warned.

For adults, lead exposure can cause miscarriages and other difficulties during pregnancy, reproductive disorders, high blood pressure, muscle joint paint and neurological problems, the group said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and other health authorities have not identified a safe threshold for lead exposure with WHO categorically stating “there is no tolerable weekly intake for lead.”

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.