Chemical Safety Advocates Laud DENR’s Move to Seize and Ban Deadly Silver Jewelry Cleaners

Quezon City. Chemical safety advocates lauded the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for taking decisive action that will hopefully make cyanide poisoning from silver jewelry cleaners a thing of the past.

“We welcome the assurance made by the DENR that the toxic concoction for cleaning silver jewelry will no longer be sold in the market and cause lethal harm to consumers and the ecosystems. We will keep a tight watch on its enforcement to protect human and ecological health,” Manny Calonzo, President of the EcoWaste Coalition, said.

“This should send a clear signal to manufacturers and retailers to be mindful of the toxic chemical contents of their products and ensure that only safe goods are sold and consumed by the public,” he added.

For her part, Dr. Lynn Panganiban, head of the University of the Philippines – National Poison Management and Control Center (UP-NPMCC), said: “We commend the EMB for taking action against the cyanide-containing silver jewelry cleaners. However, the strength of the law is measured by the effectiveness of its implementation.”

In a letter sent today to the EcoWaste Coalition, Environmental Management Bureau Director Julian Amador informed the waste and pollution watchdog that the DENR has instructed “the confiscation of these jewelry cleaners” in line with DENR Administrative Order No. 1997-39, or the Chemical Control Order (CCO) for Cyanide and Cyanide Compounds, which describes cyanide as “highly toxic to humans and aquatic life even at low concentrations.”

“The risk that these jewelry cleaners containing cyanide pose to public health is extremely high, as evident in the reported casualties, thus its ban for commercial use will be strictly enforced,” Amador said in his letter to the EcoWaste Coalition.

Amador pointed out that the toxic cleaning solutions “have no proper labeling necessary for items containing regulated hazardous substances” like cyanide.

It will be recalled that the EcoWaste Coalition wrote to the DENR on May 19 this year and again on May 20 and June 30 to appeal for action to stop, once and for all, the rising incidence of chemical poisoning due to accidental or intentional ingestion of cyanide-laced silver cleaning liquids.

Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, Jr. had earlier joined the EcoWaste Coalition in pushing for an outright ban on silver jewelry cleaners, the ingestion of which has become the number one form of suicide in CAMANAVA. This highly populated district of Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela has the most number of suicide incidents in Metro Manila.

In response to the EcoWaste Coalition’s call for action, the EMB bought samples of silver jewelry cleaners and had them tested for cyanide. Laboratory analysis, according to the EMB, showed “high content of cyanide which is fatal to humans when ingested.”

Amador informed the Coalition that, in a preventive move, Environment Secretary Lito Atienza has instructed the Environmental Law Enforcement Task Force to conduct surveillance of silver jewelry cleaners being sold in jewelry stores, malls, tiangge (flea market) and sidewalks.

In 2008, the UP-NPMCC ranked silver jewelry cleaning agents as the fourth most commonly ingested chemical poison, and the third most common toxin swallowed by children.

Between January to April 2009, the UP-NMPCC handled 99 cases of silver cleaner poisonings involving 11 accidental and 88 non-accidental poisoning that resulted in the untimely death of six victims – all less than 19 years of age.

On May 15 and June 25 2009, the EcoWaste Coalition monitored two more suicide cases involving the intake of silver jewelry cleaners by a 20-year-old female university graduate, and by a male amateur basketball referee, 25, both from Tondo, Manila.

“The ban on cyanide-laden silver jewelry cleaners, we hope, will usher a movement for the elimination of harmful chemicals in consumer products and lead to more collaborative action to advance the right of consumers to chemical safety,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.