Watch Group to Consumers: Be Cautious of Lead-Laden School Supplies (Group Hopes Toxic Children’s Products to Vanish under Duterte Presidency)

A non-profit watch group for toxic chemicals in products and wastes has again alerted consumers against buying school supplies laced with lead, a brain-damaging chemical.

For the fifth year in a row, the EcoWaste Coalition warned against toxic lead in school supplies as part of its annual back-to-school campaign for children’s health and safety.

For this year’s campaign, the group released its findings today in front of children and their parents at a day care center in Tatalon, Quezon City with a lecturette on childhood lead poisoning and prevention by Dr. Erle Castillo, a toxicologist.

Lead, a hazardous substance linked to learning and behavioral problems, is prohibited in the production of school supplies as per DENR Administrative Order 2013-24, or the “Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds,” which the group pushed to prevent and control childhood lead exposure.   

“Forty-three percent of the 75 items that we screened for toxic lead had lead levels that should make parents, who care for their children’s health and well-being, worried,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“On the other hand, 57 percent of the samples were found to be lead-free, indicating the availability of alternative products that are safe to use by children,” he pointed out.

As Rodrigo Duterte, the presumptive president, is about to take over the reins of the government by June 30, the EcoWaste Coalition expressed the need for the next administration to do more to curb the sale of school supplies and other children’s products laden with lead and other harmful chemicals.

At the event, participants brandished small tri-color placards of blue, red and yellow suggestive of Duterte’s campaign colors with the text: “School supplies dapat ligtas sa lead.”

“We hope, in the next six years of the Duterte presidency, consumers will no longer worry that they are buying poison products for their children and that they are not sending hazardous substances to school with their kids,” Dizon said. 

“As a doting grandfather, we believe that Duterte will make it sure that only non-toxic school supplies, toys and other children’s products are offered for sale by manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers,” he added.  

Using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, the EcoWaste Coalition detected lead in 32 out of 75 school supplies -purchased from formal and informal retailers in Divisoria and Quiapo, Manila, Monumento, Caloocan City and Cubao, Quezon City - in the scale of 201 to 87,000 parts per million (ppm), way above the regulatory limit of 90 ppm.

Topping this year’s “dirty dozen” school supplies with lead above 5,000 ppm were:

1.  A plastic envelope with yellow handle, 87,000 ppm.
2.  A yellow thumb tack, 78,700 ppm
3.  An “Artex Fine Water Colors” set, 62,600 ppm
4.  A plastic envelope with red handle, 36,800 ppm
5.  An orange metal water jug with “Car” design, 28,200 ppm

6.  A “Rubber Duck” pencil pouch, 27,800 ppm

7.  A yellow “Despicable Me” pencil pouch, 22,000 ppm

8.  A PVC keychain with ice cream design, 13,100 ppm

9.  A “Ronron” school bag, 7,081 ppm

10.  A yellow vinyl coated paper clip, 6,015 ppm

11.  A “Minghao” school bag, 5,862 ppm

12.  A “Snoopy” school bag, 5,777 ppm

The group noted that the Food and Drugs Administration in 2014 banned “Artex Fine Water Colors” for containing high lead content as reported to the agency by the EcoWaste Coalition.

While the four samples of crayons tested negative for lead, the group pointed out that their packaging carried no toxicity warning and “non-toxic” label as required by the Department of Trade and Industry.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed lead as one of the “ten chemicals of major public health concern,” contributing to about 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year with the highest burden in developing regions.

“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,” the WHO said.

Lead, the WHO further said, is “a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems.”

“There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe,” the WHO warned.