EcoWaste Coalition Finds Most Papal Souvenirs Non-Toxic, But Shocked to Detect Lead-Loaded Pewter Pendants in Some Items

Non-toxic papal souvenir items (above); pendants with high lead levels (below)

Not all souvenir items for the much awaited visit of Pope Francis are created equal, particularly in terms of toxicity.

The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental watchdog promoting chemical safety and zero waste, made the discovery after screening some papal souvenirs for toxic metals using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device.

“Most papal souvenirs that we have screened for lead are thankfully non-toxic. Pope Francis, who has a master’s degree in chemistry, would be happy to know that many faith-inspired products are safe from such poison and generally pose no risk to human health and the environment,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

Souvenir products found with low or non-detectable levels of toxic metals include button pins, wooden wrist rosaries with no metallic pendants, “estampitas,”  calendars and t-shirts, as well as miscellaneous things such as a bag tag, I.D. lace, refrigerator magnet and ballpen.

“However, we got the shock of our life to discover souvenir items with pewter or pewter-like pendants of Pope Francis and the Papal Cross that had dangerous levels of lead. Some are of a size that could be mouthed by children as if it was a toy,” he said.

Exposure to lead has been linked to major health issues such as learning disabilities, anemia, joint and muscle weaknesses, behavioral problems, organ failure and even death.

Sought for advice by the EcoWaste Coalition,  Dr. Scott Clark, professor emeritus of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati, USA, said that: “Children 6 years old and under are most at risk because they  are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead.  They absorb a higher percentage of the lead and their systems are developing at a higher rate.  They also tend to put things in their mouth more often, including non-food things like toys.”

Dr. Clark, who is advising the EcoWaste Coalition for its lead paint elimination project, further said “Jewelry containing lead poses a particular concern because children are prone to placing jewelry in their mouths, which can result in absorption of dangerous levels of lead. Small pieces of leaded jewelry can even be swallowed which can be fatal because of its lead content”

In USA, almost half a million units of pewter pendants and charms were recalled in 2008 due to high levels of lead.

Based on the XRF screening conducted by the group, all samples of papal souvenirs adorned with pewter or pewter-like pendants, sold for as low as P10 to P150 each, had lead in the range of 17% to 42%, way above the 0.05 % imit.

Among these were a wrist rosary with a cross pendant measuring 2 cm. that had 42% lead, a wooden bracelet with an oval Pope Francis pendant measuring 2.5 cm. with 35% lead and a necklace with a Papal Cross pendant measuring 4 cm. with 36% lead.

As defined by the American Pewter Guild, pewter is a “metal alloy product of which the chemical composition shall be not less than 90% Grade A Tin, with the remainder composed of metals appropriate for use in pewter.”

While pewter products contain trace amounts of lead because lead is naturally present in tin ores, ASTM Standard restricts the maximum amount of lead impurity in pewter to 0.05% or 500 parts per million (ppm), which is the also the lead content limit set by the US Food and Drugs Administration for pewter in contact with food. Since jewelry items are often used as toys, their lead content should not exceed 100 ppm as per US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, particularly for accessible substrates of children’s jewelry.

The manufacturer has not provided the EcoWaste Coalition with proof of compliance with the above standards that it formally requested last Monday, January 12.  

The group urged those who have already bought the lead-laden items to keep them out of children’s reach.  It also requested distributors to voluntarily withdraw the items from the market and for the government to provide locations where the items can be returned for safe disposal.

The EcoWaste Coalition has asked the government to regulate jewelry, including fashion, religious and children’s jewelry, for toxic metals such as lead, cadmium and others, and to provide instructions for their proper labeling to assist consumers in making sound purchasing decisions.

Dizon noted that none of the souvenir items provided information on their chemical content depriving consumers of their right to know.



1. Definition of Pewter:

2. Lead in Pewter Standards:

3. Recalled Pewter Pendants and Charms:


Alvin Patton said…
How did this even get out? By the way, this isn't new to me any more because I read a lot in the news about kids' toys loaded with dangerous levels of lead. That is just horrible. Lead can cause all sorts of health problems for adults, how much more to little kids! It's good to know the back here in San Diego, we have a sound hazardous waste disposal program. This takes care of the dangerous waste out of the mainstream.