Few weeks before the school graduation ceremonies, a toxics watchdog group cautioned school administrators and teachers from rewarding their most talented students with medals and trophies decorated with leaded paint.
In its latest bid to promote public awareness and action against hazardous chemicals and wastes, the EcoWaste Coalition today released the results of its probe on harmful substances in medals and trophies given to students in appreciation of their academic, artistic, sporting or various other accomplishments.
"Medals and trophies are special tokens of recognition for our students' exemplary curricular or extra-curricular achievements and should be safe from harmful substances such as lead, a toxic chemical that is known to damage the brain, reduce intelligence, stunt development and growth and cause behavioral problems," said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition's Project Protect.
To determine the presence of lead in medals and trophies that are enjoying brisk sales as the academic year is about to conclude, the EcoWaste Coalition bought samples from wholesale and retail stores along Juan Luna St. in Divisoria and Evangelista and Ronquillo Sts. In Quiapo, Manila on March 8-9.
The group purchased 10 generic medals (worth P13.50 to P55 each) and 3 basketball and volleyball trophies (costing P300 to P400 each) with painted designs, and had them screened for lead using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence device.
The screening results showed that paints used on the 10 medals had lead from 5,965 parts per million (ppm) to 39,500 ppm, way above the 90 ppm threshold limit for lead in paint under the newly promulgated Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds (CCO) by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The paints used on the 3 trophies were likewise found leaded in the range of 5,458 ppm to 11,500 ppm.
Last year, the group also found custom made medals, especially the yellow-painted ones, with excessive lead levels up to 123,800 ppm.
The DENR-issued CCO strictly prohibits the use of lead in the manufacturing of a variety of products, including school supplies and toys.
In light of its findings, the EcoWaste Coalition appealed to all school administrators as well as to medal and trophy donors from the public and private sectors to only give medals and trophies with guaranteed no added lead and other toxic substances.
It also appealed to the Department of Education to expand its "no graduation fee collection" policy to include "no leaded graduation medals and trophies" for the students' safety and well-being.
"A DepEd's policy against leaded medals, trophies and school supplies will boost DENR's effort to regulate, restrict or prohibit certain uses of lead, which pose health risk and injury to human health and the environment," Dizon said.
Finally, it asked medal and trophy makers to shift to non-lead decorative paints, which are commercially available and affordable.
Lead is on the DENR's Priority Chemicals List and the World Health Organization's "ten chemicals of major public health concern," the EcoWaste Coalition pointed out.
According to the WHO, "lead is a toxic metal whose widespread use has caused extensive environmental contamination and health problems in many parts of the world."
"It is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems," it said.
"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," it warned.