EcoWaste Coalition Cautions Kids vs. Toxic Hazards in Some Traditional Games

Playthings with low or non-detectable lead (above) and with excessive levels of lead, arsenic and/or cadmium (below).

With the start of the summer vacation, a toxics watchdog wasted no time in reminding kids to be extra careful when playing with some native games that could potentially spell trouble for their health and wellbeing. 

As part of its advocacy towards chemical safety and zero waste, the EcoWaste Coalition raised potential chemical hazards in some popular summer games such as sipa, turumpo, holen and luksong lubid, and provided some practical safety tips to minimize such risks.

“While we do encourage our kids to explore and enjoy traditional games, we ask them to be on their guard against playthings laden with hazardous substances like lead, a known developmental toxicant,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“These playthings, which form part of our rich cultural heritage, used to be plain and simple.  But, in this day and age, we find them in varying materials, colors and chemical makeups,” he pointed out.

The EcoWaste Coalition issued the advisory after analyzing a total of  350 samples of sipa, turumpo, holen, lubid and palayok that it bought from vendors in Divisoria, Manila and screened for toxic metals using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) instrument.

Sipa, originally a rattan ball, is now often made of lead flat washers that carpenters use to secure roof nails and with threads of packaging straw on the hole. All 40 sipa samples were found to contain lead, with each of the locally-made sipa with lead washers having over 100,000 parts per million (ppm) of lead. 

Turumpo, the cone-shaped whipping wooden toy, now comes in a variety of colors.  Unfortunately, the paints used to coat them with attractive colors had lead.  Out of 33 samples of painted tops, lead exceeding the regulatory limit of 90 ppm was discovered in all but two of them, with a yellow coated turumpo having 15,100 ppm of lead.

The lubid for skipping rope, which used to be made of abaca fiber, is now made of plastic materials.  One of the 3 samples analyzed had lead: a rope made of polyvinyl chloride plastic with 4,134 ppm of lead.

While free of lead, the 271 pieces of holen or jolen were found to contain either arsenic, cadmium or both.  Cadmium up to 3,158 ppm was detected in 170 marbles and arsenic up to 586 ppm was found in  196 marbles. 

The palayok for fiesta’s hit-the-pot games use to be unadorned claypot.  Today we find them painted with cartoon figures like Barney, Mickey Mouse and Superman.  Fortunately, all three samples of painted palayok had no detectable lead.

In view of the above findings, the EcoWaste Coalition advised kids to:

1.  Go for playthings made of indigenous materials such as abaca rope for luksong lubid.
2.  Pick playthings that are properly labeled, without lead components and not coated with lead paint. 
3.  Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after playing and before eating.

Recognizing that kids would have no way of determining which ones are safe from lead and other harmful chemicals, the EcoWaste Coalition appealed to toy makers to unilaterally switch to non-toxic alternatives and embrace clean production for truly child-friendly playthings.

The group also reminded toy makers to abide by the Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources last December that bans the use of lead in the production of toys, and further sets a threshold limit of 90 parts per million (ppm) for lead in paints.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that “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.”

According to a WHO factsheet, “children's brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead and may not be able to repair the damage caused.”

“During his or her first years of life, a child's ability to metabolize, detoxify, and excrete toxins differs from that of an adult, making the child more susceptible to lead,” it said.