Chemical Safety Groups Push “Oplan Silver Cleaner” to Finally Stop Cyanide Poisoning

Quezon City. Chemical safety groups urged the government to wage an all-out campaign to purge the market of highly poisonous silver cleaners containing cyanide and other toxic chemicals.

In a letter sent today to Atty. Juan Miguel Cuna, Director of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), the EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Mother Earth Foundation (MEF) proposed the conduct of “Oplan Silver Cleaner” to permanently cut the supply chain of this lethal concoction that has claimed the lives of many Filipinos.

The groups made the proposal in time for the EMB-convened multi-stakeholders’ consultation on August 17 to halt the unabated incidence of cyanide poisoning due to the accidental or deliberate ingestion of silver jewelry cleaning agents.

“We welcome this timely effort that should plot a robust plan of action to enforce the ban on cyanide-laced silver cleaners, which are poisonous and may be fatal if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT.

“Silver cleaners containing sodium or potassium cyanide salts and other toxic substances continue to cause preventable mortalities among young children who mistook them for water, and adults who purposely drank them to commit suicide,” lamented retired chemist Sonia Mendoza, Chairperson of MEF.

“Through ‘Oplan Silver Cleaner,’ we hope to terminate this string of gruesome injuries and deaths from cyanide poisoning that has brought untold suffering and pain to the victims and their families. This should also lead to popularizing non-toxic alternatives to polish tarnished silver jewelry,” said Manny Calonzo, Co-Coordinator of GAIA.

The “Oplan Silver Cleaner,” the groups said, should serve the goal of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) of protecting human health and the ecosytems from harms caused by exposure to toxic chemicals.

To be effective, “Oplan Silver Cleaner” should involve all major stakeholders, including concerned government departments, law enforcement agencies, poison management and control units, jewelry industry associations, public interest groups and the mass media, the groups said.

Citing information from the UP National Poison Management and Control Center (UPNPMCC) – Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and the Poison Control Unit – East Avenue Medical Center, the groups said that silver jewelry cleaners have become one of the top three toxicants among patients admitted during the past two years in these major public hospitals.

Based on information provided by the UPNPMCC to the EcoWaste Coalition, the Center handled a total of 235 in-patient admissions in PGH and 118 telephone referrals in 2009, involving 241 cases from adult age group and 112 from pediatric age group.

The UPNPMCC also reported 11 mortalities in 2009 (six from in-patient admissions and five from telephone referrals), involving three adult and eight pediatric cases. From January to June 2010, the Center reported nine mortalities (four from in-patient admissions and five from telephone referrals), comprising four adult and five pediatric cases.

A July 2010 advisory by the Department of Health (DOH) says that “cyanide found in most of the silver cleaning solutions is classified as a poisonous substance liable to cause death or serious injury to human health.”

According to the DOH, “cyanide is rapidly absorbed in the body and blocks utilization of oxygen in all organs.” As such, “poisoning with silver jewelry cleaner is a life-threatening condition and should be treated in the hospital as a medical emergency.”

The DENR in 1997 issued a “Chemical Control Order (CCO) for Cyanide and Cyanide Compounds” to control their use and dispersion into the environment and avoid adverse consequences. Cyanide and cyanide compounds are highly toxic to humans and aquatic life even at low concentrations, according to the CCO.