Some monkey figurines sold as “lucky charms” in Quiapo, Manila were found to be decorated with paints containing high levels of toxic lead.
The EcoWaste Coalition, a toxics watchdog, found this out after subjecting five of such painted figurines to chemicals screening using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device.
Sold ahead of the upcoming Chinese New Year of the Fire Monkey, the locally-made figurines can be purchased from street vendors for P20 to P50 each depending on the size.
As per XRF screening, the green and yellow paint coatings of the monkey figurines contained 2,690 to 7,800 parts per million (ppm) of lead, exceeding the government’s limit of 90 ppm for lead in decorative paints.
Under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-issued regulation, leaded decorative paints are to be phased out by December this year.
“The use of lead paint in products that are supposed to attract good luck is unacceptable as lead is known to pollute the environment and harm human health,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
“Children may be exposed to lead as the painted surfaces of the figurines chip with time or when the figurines are broken creating lead-contaminated dust,” he said.
“Children playing at home may pick and eat the lead-containing paint chip or ingest the lead-containing dust through their usual hand-to-mouth behavior,” he added.
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.”
To protect young children from being exposed to lead in paint and dust, the EcoWaste Coalition urged lucky charm makers to switch to lead-safe decorative paints.
The group further asked entrepreneurs to properly label their products in keeping with the consumer right to information under the Consumer Act of the Philippines.
“Aside from the basic information about their manufacturer, importer or distributor, consumers need to know what chemicals constitute a product and what precautions, if any, are to be taken to avoid harm. Painted products like household decorations, furniture and toys should carry a ‘lead-safe’ mark,” Dizon pointed out.
Lead, a toxic chemical, has been shown to harm a child’s developing brain and central nervous system even at low levels of exposure with life-long adverse impacts, the EcoWaste Coalition said.
Lead, according to WHO, “is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems.”