As Christmas parties and reunions are held left and right, an environmental and health watchdog cautioned the public against using paint brushes in food preparations, particularly for barbecuing meat.
The EcoWaste Coalition issued the reminder amid the increased demand for meat barbecue on bamboo skewers, a popular appetizer or finger food or “pulutan,” due to numerous Christmas parties and other holiday get-togethers.
“Food caterers and vendors should only use appropriate materials in the preparation of party favorites that will not cause food contamination,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
“The use of painting brushes as basting brushes for barbecues and other food items may be convenient, but risky in terms of food safety as the handles of these brushes are often coated with lead paint,” he said.
According to the EcoWaste Coalition, the lead on the painted brush handle may break off due to frequent use, get mixed with the basting sauce and ingested through the barbecued meat, building up in the body over time.
Paint brushes are commonly used by street vendors to rub barbecue meat with the basting sauce, as well as to grease “bibingka” (rice cake), “puto bumbong” (steamed sticky rice) and corn on the cob with butter or margarine
The group purchased this year a total of 84 paint brushes from small and big hardware shops in Cebu City, Davao City and Quezon City and have them screened for heavy metals using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence analytical device.
Out of the 84 samples, the EcoWaste Coalition detected lead in 71 samples in the range of 271 parts per million (ppm) to 17,400 ppm, way above the US lead paint limit of 90 ppm.
Traces of other chemicals of concern such as arsenic, chromium and mercury were also found in some of the samples.
According to the WHO publication “Exposure to Lead: A Major Public Health Concern,” lead is “a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems.”
“The potential for adverse effects of lead exposure is greater for children than for adults, because in children 1) the intake of lead per unit body weight is higher, 2) more dust may be ingested, 3) lead absorption in the gastrointestinal tract is higher, 4) the blood–brain
barrier is not yet fully developed and 5) neurological effects occur at lower levels than in adults,” it said.
“Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, as well as minor malformations,” it pointed out.