Be Wary of Chinese New Year Lucky Charms with Toxic Chemicals


A watchdog group for chemical safety and zero waste has reminded consumers to be careful when buying lucky charms and enhancers after finding some items laden with toxic chemicals.

In a bid to promote consumer awareness on hazardous chemicals in products, the EcoWaste Coalition over the weekend bought 20 Chinese New Year good luck charms and ornaments and had them screened for toxic metals using a portable X-Ray-Fluorescence (XRF) device.

The samples, costing P20 to P250 each, were procured from specialty stores and sidewalk vendors in Binondo and Quiapo, Manila. 

As per XRF screening, 13 of the 20 samples were found to contain elevated quantities of lead, arsenic and chromium, 3 had high levels of antimony and 1 had excessive amount  of cadmium , the EcoWaste Coalition reported.

Arsenic, cadmium and lead are among the “top ten chemicals of major public health concern” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Exposure to these toxic metals has been associated with a range of health issues from reproductive disorders, birth defects, developmental delays, hormonal imbalances, heart ailments, neurological problems to cancers,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“Lead exposure, in particular, has been linked to aggressive, delinquent and destructive behavior,” said Dizon, citing studies connecting childhood lead exposure to crime and violence later in life.

“Ironically, many Filipinos unsuspectingly buy such potentially dangerous lucky charms and amulets for good health and for long, trouble-free life,” he added. 

“None of the items analyzed had complete product labeling information, including chemical information to warn buyers of possible chemical hazards,” he noted.

Dizon attributed the toxicity of most samples to the use of leaded paint, particularly on the yellow coatings with lead exceeding the 90 parts per million (ppm) limit for lead in paint and surface coatings under the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

He noted that all the items with high levels of lead also had high levels of arsenic and chromium.

“While not originally made for children’s use, it’s not improbable for lucky charms and amulets to get into the hands of a curious kid who may bite, mouth or even accidentally ingest the toxic items, some which, like the lucky coins, are small enough to be swallowed,” he said.

Health experts had warned that lead exposure among children even at low levels can interrupt and damage brain development and cause lifelong learning and behavioral problems, while exposure among adults can bring about miscarriage in women, reduced sperm count in men, hypertension and other health problems.

The top seven "unlucky charms" with the highest lead content include:

1.  A “Lucky Dragon Amulet” with Chinese character to bring good fortune, with 7,920 ppm.
2.  A frog sitting on a lotus leaf refrigerator magnet lucky charm, with 7,336 ppm
3.  A dragon refrigerator magnet lucky charm,  with 5,693 ppm
4.  A “Wu Lo Amulet” with “Medicine Buddha” mantra for good health, with 4,090 ppm.
5.  A goat with pineapple figurine, with 3,861 ppm
6.  A “Double Fish Lucky Coin” for prosperity, with 3,100 ppm
7.  A “Door Fu” to welcome wealth, with 2,555 ppm

A colorful set of “Three Wise Men” figurines had varying levels of lead.  On the other hand,  three “good luck” goat figurines had no detectable lead, indicating the viability of making lucky charms without harmful lead.

To avoid lead exposure, Dizon advised consumers to avoid lucky charms with painted coatings unless certified as lead-safe.

Alternatively, Filipinos who are planning to welcome the Chinese New Year of the Green Wooden Sheep may wish to try safer ways of attracting good energy, fortune and health, he said, including praying hard and working harder, and boosting good karma by doing good deeds.