Warning Out on Toxic Educational Magnets

The surface coatings of some magnets used in classroom science experiments and fun activities may contain high levels of lead that can pose health hazards to young learners.

According to the EcoWaste Coalition, five of the 13 magnets that it purchased for P10 to P329 pet set from stores selling school supplies in Caloocan, Makati, Mandaluyong, Manila and Marikina Cities failed the national standard restricting lead in paint to not more than 90 parts per million (ppm).  

An X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device detected violative levels of lead above 3,000 ppm on the surface paints of the analyzed magnets. The red paint on the bar and U-shaped of one product, for example, had 3,485 and 6,280 ppm lead, respectively. None of the lead-containing magnets had lead warning signs or labels. Also, some of the magnet sets contain small objects that can be a choking hazard.  

“As part of our back-to-school campaign for chemical safety and zero waste, we bought samples of magnets and had them screened for lead, a brain-damaging chemical banned in the production of paints, toys and school supplies, including science kits,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

“Our investigation shows that the red coatings of some magnets are lead paint, which can result in lead exposure as the surface paint cracks and deteriorates over time with frequent use and is unknowingly ingested by a child,” she said.  

Magnets are useful educational resources that can help young learners to explore and develop their coordination, motor, problem solving and creative skills. Hence, it is important to keep them safe from toxic chemicals like lead, which is known to negatively affect a child’s developing brain and nervous system, the EcoWaste Coalition noted.

The group emphasized that all products manufactured and marketed for children’s use must be safe from hazardous chemicals that can jeopardize a child’s healthy growth and development.

DENR Administrative Order 2013-24 strictly prohibits the use of lead and its compounds in the manufacture of paints, as well as toys and school supplies. A memorandum circular issued by the Environmental Management Bureau further clarified that such prohibition would take effect after December 31, 2016.  

The EcoWaste Coalition has already notified the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about its findings and requested the agency to initiate the necessary action to protect young learners from lead painted magnets, a preventable source of childhood lead exposure.

Meanwhile, the group also advised consumers to shun a multi-color, multi-shape "ZRH Colour Magnets" that it had bought in September 2021 and found to be decorated with lead paint. The yellow painted star-shaped magnet had 23,600 ppm lead, while the red painted bar, heart- and U-shaped magnets had lead up to 4,122 ppm and the pink painted arrow-shaped magnet had 1,012 ppm lead.

"We did not find this particular magnet set in the stores we visited this time around.  But it is possible that retailers elsewhere are still offering this for sale. Consumers should refrain from buying this item to protect young learners from potential lead exposure," the EcoWaste Coalition said.