29 May 2014

Laboratory Analysis Detects Dangerous Levels of Lead in Some School Supplies

A chemical known to damage a child’s developing brain even at low exposures was discovered in some children’s products as consumers scramble for back-to-school supplies.

The EcoWaste Coalition, a toxics watchdog, revealed that nine assorted school supplies that it had sent to a private laboratory for analysis detected lead up to 140,000 parts per million (ppm) in palpable violation of Philippine and US government regulations on lead.

As part of its ongoing “waste-free, toxic-free” back-to-school campaign, the group bought the items for P7.50 to P599.75 each from formal and informal retailers in Divisoria and Quiapo, Manila City and Makati City and had them examined for total lead content by SGS, a global testing company.

The DENR Administrative Order 2013-24 strictly prohibits the use of lead in the manufacturing of school supplies, among other control measures on lead and lead compounds, while the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) prohibits lead in concentration greater than 90 ppm in paint or any similar surface coatings of children’s products. 

The US law also sets a limit of 100 ppm of total lead content in any accessible component part of a children's product such as zippers of school bags.

As per laboratory test results, the samples were found laden with lead, a toxic metal notorious for interfering with the developing brain and causing irreversible damage to a child’s health and development.

“The lead levels found in the samples using required test methods are atrociously high, and should provoke immediate removal of such dangerous products from the market,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“As some consumers may have already purchased them, the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of the leaded products should take these products back, replace with unleaded substitutes or offer cash refund instead,” he added.

“Parents should insist on their right to safe products, a basic entitlement for all consumers,” he emphasized.

For her part, pediatric toxicologist Dr.  Bessie Antonio of the East Avenue Medical Center pointed out:  “while lead is harmful to everyone, it is most of all dangerous to young children because their growing bodies absorb and keep more lead than adults do,” adding that “the damage to their budding brains and nervous systems is often irreversible, but fully preventable.”

The lead levels of the following school supplies were found way above the threshold limits under the US CPSIA:

1.  Standard Office Plus yellow thumb tacks (P24.75), 140,000 ppm
2.  “Ronron” backpack (P100), 120,000 ppm
3.  “Princess” backpack with yellow zipper (P150), 97,000 ppm
4.  Yellow stainless steel vacuum flask (P100), 78,000 ppm
5.  “Artex Fine Water Colors” (P50), 37,000 ppm
6.  Blackboard (P35), 32,000 ppm
7.  “Luck” giant paper clip with Angry Bird décor (P7.50), 16,000 ppm
8.  Transparent backpack with orange zipper (P299), 13,000 ppm
9.  Creative Gear “Fashion Girl” backpack (P599.75), 170 ppm

None of the above products indicated the presence of lead as ingredient on the label to inform and warn consumers.

The fact sheet
“Lead Poisoning and Health,”published by the World Health Organization (WHO) categorically states “there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.”

“At lower levels of exposure that cause no obvious symptoms, and that previously were considered safe, lead is now known to produce a spectrum of injury across multiple body systems,” the fact sheet said.
“In particular lead affects children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioural changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behaviour, and reduced educational attainment,” the fact sheet emphasized.

The EcoWaste Coalition therefore advises back-to-school consumers to observe the following shopping tips:

1.  Look for and read the product label carefully.
2.  Avoid PVC school supplies, which may contain lead and other toxic additives.
3.  Refrain from buying products coated with paints unless certified “lead safe.”
4.  Avoid buying products with strong chemical smell.
5.  Ask for receipt or any proof of purchase.

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