Toxic Lead Detected in Cebu Ukulele Souvenirs (Groups Urge Ukulele and Other Souvenir Makers to Switch to Unleaded Paint)

It’s not fun to play with colorful toy ukuleles if these are coated with leaded paint, two environmental health groups jointly declared today.

The Cebu City-based Philippine Earth Justice Center (PEJC) and the Quezon City-based EcoWaste Coalition made the common statement after detecting lead, a toxic chemical used as drier or pigment in some enamel paints, in toy ukuleles bought from musical and souvenir shops located in Cebu and Lapu-Lapu Cities.

The groups bought the unlabeled samples for P100 to P200 each on July 22-23 and consequently analyzed for heavy metals using a device called the X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer.

The limited sampling of toy ukuleles being sold in Cebu is part of the groups’ ongoing advocacy to promote safe children’s products without harmful chemicals that can bring about adverse health effects.

The six ukulele samples were found to contain lead levels above the limit of 90 parts per million (ppm)  for lead in paints and surface coatings under the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Sample one had 13,900 ppm of lead, sample two 10,100 ppm, sample three 7,321 ppm, sample four 2,417 ppm, sample five 2,192 ppm and sample six 649 ppm.
Aside from lead, traces of other toxic metals such as arsenic (up to 2,113 ppm), cadmium (up to 69 ppm), chromium (up to 9,849 ppm) and mercury (up to 63 ppm) were likewise detected on the painted designs of the popular souvenir items.

“Cebu-made toy ukuleles are among the top picks for local and foreign tourists as nice and affordable giveaways to kids.  It’s essential that such a popular memento does not present any lead paint hazard to child users,” said law faculty Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, Coordinator of PEJC. 

“We urge our ukulele and other souvenir makers to ensure only unleaded paint is used on their products,” she said.

“The leaded paint on the ukulele will, after a while, come off and get mixed with dust that gets into a child’s hands and into her or his mouth, thus resulting to the unintentional ingestion of lead,” explained Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“There is no level of childhood exposure to lead that is considered safe,” he emphasized.

To assist consumers, particularly tourists, in making informed choices, both the PEJC and the EcoWaste Coalition insist that ukulele makers provide “non-toxic” labels on their products after due laboratory analysis and certification.

Lead is considered one of the “ten chemicals of major public health concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to WHO, lead “is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems.”

“Children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead, and even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and in some cases irreversible neurological damage,” WHO warned.

All preventable sources of childhood lead exposure should be minimized, if not eliminated, for children's health and safety, the EcoWaste Coalition and the PEJC said.