Cebu Environment Advocates Call for Action on Toxic Toys

MANDAUE CITY, CEBU- Environmental advocates in Cebu call for action to look into the recent findings of heavy metals found in children’s products in Metro Cebu that cause concern for consumer toxic exposure, particularly the children.

In a public forum called “Luwas nga Pagduwa” held at the University of Cebu Banilad Campus in Mandue City, the Philippine Earth Justice Center (PEJC), EcoWaste Coalition and the IPEN through its “State of the Toys Analysis” (SOTA) revealed that approximately 25 percent of the products contained at least one toxic metal above levels of concern. This is the first ever public investigation of toxic metals in children’s products such as toys, cosmetics and accessories in Cebu.

The chemical analysis conducted by the PEJC, EcoWaste and IPEN shows that lead, mercury and other toxic metals can be found in toys and other children’s products for sale in bargain stores and giant shopping malls in downtown Colon, in uptown Cebu, in reclamation area and “ukay-ukay” shops in downtown Cebu.

The findings were disclosed ahead of the “State of the Nation Address” (SONA) by President Benigno Aquino III in the hope of pushing the government to adopt the protection of children from harm posed by toxic substances as a priority goal.

Visiting American scientist Dr. Joseph DiGangi conducted the tests in July 21, 2011 using a hand-held X-ray flourescence (XRF) analyzer that is widely used by the private sector and regulatory agencies such as the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. This study measured toxic metals in 100 children’s products in Cebu with a focus on antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury.

The data revealed 8 products (8%) that contained lead at or above the US regulatory limit. Eight samples (8%) contained more than one toxic metal, DiGangi said.

He explained that in this study, several products were found that connect directly to the mouth. These included two drinking glasses with extraordinary levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic along with a toy container for candies and toy vampire teeth designed to be placed in the mouth.

The study also found children’s toy cosmetics with mercury levels approximately three times higher than the Philippine regulatory limit of 1ppm (part per million), he added.

“The findings raise valid safety concerns for toxic exposure among children and send a strong signal to the toy industry to shape up, phase out harmful chemicals in their products and shift to safer ingredients,” stated DiGangi, IPEN Science and Policy Adviser.

Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, PEJC coordinator said that “citizens deserve protection of their non-negotiable right to health from the State.”

She added that “government has a clear obligation to provide the much needed policy and regulatory framework for the producers and manufacturers of goods to prioritize the well-being of consumers, especially the children’s.”

PEJC hopes that the findings of lead and other hazardous substances in kids’ toys will propel much needed action from LGUs, in close coordination with other government agencies and stakeholders, in ensuring that children are not exposed to undue risks to their lives and health, she added.

The effort of the PEJC, EcoWaste, and IPEN to generate data and seek industry reforms drew immediate support from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the lead agency that regulates toys and other children’s products.

In a statement read by FDA- Region VII, Dr. Suzette Lazo, FDA Director, said that the agency “continues to work towards strengthening its capability and processes consistent with its relentless quest to achieve toxic-free products.”

“Recognizing the vital role of non-government organizations (NGOs), the FDA acknowledges every effort including activities that can aid the agency in establishing data to justify regulatory actions,” she stated.

“The FDA, thus, endorses initiatives of EcoWaste Coalition and IPEN, both NGOs, in conducting a research survey on the presence of toxic elements in consumer products especially those critical to vulnerable groups of the society such as children,” Dr. Lazo said.

Dr. Lazo also noted “the availability of breakthrough technology that can quickly and accurately test for the presence of harmful chemicals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and arsenic in consumer products can significantly boost monitoring efforts and prevent unsafe products from being marketed to unsuspecting consumers.”

“The FDA hereby enjoins every manufacturer, importers, distributors and retailers to be more aware of safety issues and to exercise extraordinary diligence in their manufacture and distribution of products under their stewardship by assuring that these are free of harmful chemicals,” she stressed.

The FDA further encouraged consumers to be more vigilant and report to the agency at telephone number 8078275 or the nearest DOH-Center for Health Development (CHD) or the Health Offices of Local Government Units (LGUs) any product suspected to be hazardous to health for appropriate action.