Following Education Secretary Armin Luistro’s challenge for big donors to consider “total makeover” of schools, an environmental watchdog group reminded that renovations should be carefully done so as not to disturb lead paint and disperse toxic dust.
Speaking before real estate business leaders last week, Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Luistro proposed that the government-initiated adopt-a-school program “should now be a total makeover” and not just focused on the construction of a few classrooms.
“Many of our public schools surely require complete makeovers to make them conducive for learning, but renovations, especially those involving repainting jobs, must be done safely,” said Jeiel Guarino of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Lead in Paint Elimination Project.
“Some of our school facilities may have doors, windows, ceilings, walls, chairs, tables and play equipment coated with lead paint, so any renovation work should be planned and done very carefully to avoid disturbing the lead paint,” he said.
“Disturbing surfaces covered with lead paint by cutting, dry sanding and scraping or torching will disperse hazardous chips and dust, posing real health risk to people, especially the young children,” he said.
“Kids can ingest the lead dust, which is often invisible, as they play and put their hands into their mouths. Lead can also enter their bodies through the inhalation of lead dust,” he added.
According to “The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right” published by the US Environmental Protection Agency, “lead in dust is the most common way people are exposed to lead” and that “lead is especially dangerous to children under six years of age.”
Lead can affect children’s brains and developing nervous systems, causing reduced IQ and learning disabilities, behavioral problems and that even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies, the guide said.
“Pregnant teachers and school workers exposed to lead may transfer lead to their fetuses , causing irreparable damage, especially to their developing brains,” Guarino said.
“Workers not trained in proper lead paint removal can ingest and inhale the lead dust, and even bring the lead dust home through their work clothes and shoes,” he said.
The EcoWaste Coalition urged DepEd to work with other government departments, the paint industry association and other concerned stakeholders in developing a specific guide to prevent and reduce lead hazards in school renovations.
Considering the commercial availability of unleaded paints, the group asked the education department to ban the use of lead paint in public and private schools at all levels and declare the entire school system as “lead-free” zone.
The EcoWaste Coalition cited the need for all government institutions to rally behind the newly-promulgated Chemical Control Order (CCO) for Lead and Lead Compounds issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources last December 23.
The CCO signed by Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje prohibits the use of lead in the production of food and beverage packaging, school supplies, toys, cosmetics and other products.
It further sets a threshold limit of 90 parts per million (ppm) for lead in paints and designates a phaseout period for leaded decorative and industrial paints by 2016 and 2019, respectively.