Citizens’ Groups Seek “Pangulong PATOK” to Protect Children from Toxic Chemicals

Quezon City. “Wanted: Pangulong Ayaw sa Toksik” (President Against Toxics) or “Pangulong PATOK.”

This is the fervent plea of citizens’ groups from across the Philippines who challenged all the presidential candidates for the 2010 polls to stand up against toxic chemicals that are endangering the health of Filipino children.

In a statement endorsed by over 100 groups and individuals, the EcoWaste Coalition and the Save Babies Coalition sought a kid-friendly political leadership who will recognize the special vulnerability of children and act decisively to safeguard their health and well-being.

Signatories include health, environmental, social justice, women’s rights and children’s welfare advocates from the academe, church, community groups, non-government organizations and professional associations.

They cried out for a “Pangulong PATOK” at a grassroots gathering in Quezon City that the EcoWaste Coalition convened under its Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats).

“We need caring and judicious leaders who will take every step to ensure that Filipino children are born free of toxins and are able to grow, play, study and develop in a clean, safe and healthy environment,” the EcoWaste Coalition and the Save Babies Coalition stated.

“We need a ‘Pangulong PATOK’ who will defend children’s health first, uphold the precautionary principle and environmental justice, and enforce pollution prevention and reduction policies and regulations that will eliminate toxic body burden in children and in adults and in other organisms, too,” they said.

For the EcoWaste Coalition, Save Babies Coalition and other groups, children’s health is a legitimate electoral issue that aspiring political leaders should address head-on if they really want to eradicate poverty and hunger.

“It is not enough for politicians to cuddle and carry babies in campaign sorties,” said Manny Calonzo of the EcoWaste Coalition. “We want them to commit to protecting the integrity of the ecosystems from harmful chemicals to ensure quality living conditions for our children and the entire Filipino people.”

The groups cautioned candidates from getting campaign funds from pesticide, tobacco and infant formula milk companies that could affect their political integrity and independence to speak and act in favor of the public interest.

The also urged the candidates to run an eco-friendly campaign that will proactively prevent and reduce campaign trash.

Breastfeeding activist Velvet Roxas of Arugaan and Save Babies Coalition warned that babies across the globe are born pre-polluted with a cocktail of industrial chemicals in their blood that are passed from parent to child from the earliest phases of life development.

“Chemical contaminants creep stealthily into the developing fetuses that can seriously interfere with children’s right and ability to develop fully, enjoy their childhood and get ready for a productive adulthood,” Roxas said.

Studies show that children are born with over 300 industrial chemicals in their blood, including persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals and other substances of concern that are linked to the rising incidence of reproductive and developmental disorder, cancer and other serious health problems.

These chemicals are found in consumer products, locally manufactured or imported, such as baby bottles, children’s clothing, toys, school supplies, cosmetics and personal care products, slippers and shoes, household furniture, electronic and electrical items, and countless other products in the market.

According to the groups, children living in poverty are more susceptible to ailments caused or aggravated by toxic chemicals as they eke out a living in streets, dumpsites and other high risk places and suffer from daily contact and exposure to chemicals.

Depending on the type of chemical, the degree and frequency of exposure and the child’s state of nutrition and health, chemical exposure can lead to asthma and other respiratory ailments, low IQ, mental retardation and developmental delays, immune and hormonal disorders, cancers and other grave health problems.

For a cleaner, safer and healthier future for our children, the EcoWaste Coalition, Save Babies Coalition and allied groups called on the presidential candidates to:

I. Pursue chemical policy reforms by translating the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) into a national chemical safety policy framework and action plan to achieve sustainable development, eradicate poverty and disease, and improve public health and the environment.

II. Promote robust policies that will identify, phase out and ban toxic chemicals of concern and bar the sale of products containing these chemicals, particularly, but not limited to, those known or suspected as persistent, carcinogenic, neurotoxic or endocrine disruptor, for which alternatives have been developed.

III. Implement mandatory product information labeling that will disclose all the chemical contents of products and their potential health and environmental effects as well as provide guidance on handling and waste management.

Specifically, the groups urged the candidates to

1. Enforce the Philippine Milk Code and promote and defend breastfeeding, ensuring that breastmilk – the first complete, ecological and Zero Waste food for humans – is protected from all types of contaminants and also from commercial assaults.

2. Proclaim schools, day care centers, hospitals and clinics, parks and play centers and others places frequented by children as “toxic-free zone.”

3. Support legislation that will keep toys, children’s articles and school supplies, and any material containing toxic chemicals out of the hands of children.

4. Direct the elimination of lead paints and push for a national partnership involving all stakeholders to accelerate its implementation.

5. Support the mercury-free school effort and declare February 16 of every year– in remembrance of the mercury spill at St. Andrew’s School in Parañaque City – as “Mercury-Free Day.”

6. Endorse the “Green Health Covenant” towards an environmentally-responsible and climate-friendly healthcare system.

7. Support all tobacco control measures, including requiring graphic health warnings for all cigarettes and tobacco products.

8. Ban the aerial application of agro-chemicals in banana plantations and other commercial farms and promote a shift from chemical-intensive to ecological agriculture.

9. Push for the ratification of the Basel Ban Amendment and ensure a coherent national policy to protect the country’s environment from foreign toxic chemicals and wastes.

10. Support the establishment of poison prevention and control centers in the various regions to effectively address cases outside of the National Capital Region.

11. Allocate resources for scientific research on the link between chemical exposure and health outcomes in different age groups and in different settings.

12. Implement the pollution prevention provisions of the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, particularly the prohibition on open waste burning and waste incineration.

13. Ensure that all waste disposal facilities comply with health and environmental laws and standards and do not discharge harmful substances.