Doctors and Environmentalists Press for Children's Protection against Lead Exposure

Physicians and environmental advocates have combined their voices to call for action to protect children from being exposed to lead, a toxic chemical that harms the brain and the nervous system.

In a joint press statement, the Philippine Pediatric Society and the EcoWaste Coalition drew attention to the pernicious effects of lead exposure to a child’s developing brain and the need to make a child’s environment safe from lead and other toxins.

The two groups sounded the alarm bell as the UN-initiated first ever International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action is observed on October 20-26. Both groups support the European Union-funded Lead Paint Elimination Project in the country.

“Childhood lead exposure can have serious effects on a child’s developing brain and impair normal childhood growth and development,” said Dr. Melinda Atienza, President, Philippine Pediatric Society.

She cited the World Health Organization’s report on “Childhood Lead Poisoning,” which states that “these effects are untreatable and irreversible because the human brain has little capacity for repair, causing diminution in brain function and reduction in achievement that last throughout life.”

Dr. Atienza said studies have shown that lead exposure early in life can result in loss of intelligence, poor reading and language skills, hearing problems, impaired attention, reduced growth and disruptive behavior.

The EcoWaste Coalition for its part emphasized the elimination of lead paint, a major source of childhood lead exposure, as key to creating a lead-safe children’s environment and in reducing lead levels in children’s blood.

“Phasing out lead paints, starting with paints applied in places where children gather, study and play, is indispensable to creating a healthy environment for our kids and lowering their intake of lead. We successfully removed lead in gasoline way back in 2000, it’s high time we do the same for paint,” said Von Hernandez, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

Hernandez pointed out that the casual hand to mouth behavior of children results in the higher intake of harmful dust, which may contain lead from chipped paints and other sources.

Aside from flaking enamel paints that get mixed into the dust and soil, other sources of exposure for children include lead used in toys and other children’s products, lead-glazed or lead-painted ceramics, informal recycling of e-waste and lead batteries, and lead released by the incineration of lead-containing waste, the groups said.

Numerous investigations conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition from 2011 to date indicate the presence of high concentrations of lead in toys being offered for sale in the market, as well as in children’s jewellery, rain gear, slippers, mugs with cartoon designs, and a number of common school and office supplies.

The Philippine Pediatric Society, a specialty division of the Philippine Medical Association, is a professional organization of more than 4,000 physicians caring for newborns, infants, children and adolescents.

The EcoWaste Coalition is an environmental network of over 150 public interest groups promoting zero waste and a toxics-free society.