Undas "Unlucky 13": EcoWaste Coalition Finds 13 Lucky Charms Toxic

Some lucky charms sold outside the Manila South Cemetery during Undas were found tainted with high levels of lead, a toxic chemical.

The EcoWaste Coalition made this discovery after buying and analyzing 15 lucky charm figurines made of iskayola (plaster of paris) and painted with lead paint from street vendors.

The unlabeled figurines were locally produced in DasmariƱas, Cavite according to the sellers who sell them for P10 to P25 each depending on the size.

Using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer, the group detected arsenic, chromium and lead in 13 out of the 15 samples.

Lead ranging from 1,306 to 10,100 parts per million (ppm) was present in 13 samples, exceeding the US limit of 90 ppm for lead in paint and surface coatings.

Lead from paint is known as one of the major sources of childhood lead exposure.

“We find it disturbing that products marketed as bringing in good luck are laden with hazardous substances such as lead that can badly harm our health and the environment,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

Lead, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “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,” the WHO said.

Dizon explained that children may be exposed to lead as the painted surfaces of the figurines chip with time or when the figurines are broken creating lead-contaminated dust.

“Children playing at home get the lead dust on their hands, and then ingest it through usual hand-to-mouth routine, notably for kids aged six years and younger. In some cases, they may even pick up paint chips that have higher lead content than that of dust and eat the chips,” he said.

To protect children from being exposed to lead, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the Cavite-based factory producing the lucky charm figurines to switch to non-lead paint, which is commercially available in the market.

A European Union-funded study on household enamel paints conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition showed that 75 of the 122 samples that the group sent to Italy for laboratory analysis had lead above 90 ppm, while the rest of 47 samples had low or non-detectable levels of lead.

“We call upon the makers of these lucky charms to stop using lead-based decorative paints and make their products truly symbolize good health and fortuity,” Dizon said.

The “unlucky 13” lucky charm figurines and their lead content based on the XRF screening conducted by the group include:

1.  A big angel dressed in red with 10,100 ppm of lead.
2.  A green lucky snake with 5,920 ppm of lead.
3.  A small angel dressed in yellow with 5,299 ppm of lead
4.  A pumpkin coin bank with twin pigs with 3,759 ppm of lead.
5.  Three small angels dressed in blue, green and yellow with 3,463 ppm of lead
6.  Statuettes of three wise men with 3,059 ppm of lead.
7.  A Small angel with 3,196 ppm of lead.
8.  Two elephants with raised trunks with 2,623 ppm of lead
9.  Buddha with big belly and sack with 2,390 ppm of lead.
10.  An orange lucky tiger holding a red coin with 2,366  ppm of lead.
11.  Smiling Buddha holding a gold ingot with 2,227 of lead.
12.  A green money frog with 1,862 ppm of lead.
13.  A small brown horse with 1,306 ppm of lead.

A yellow lucky snake with pineapple and gold ingots, and an orange good fortune cats with waving paws had no detectable levels of lead.