EcoWaste Coalition Alerts City and Barangay Officials about Lead-Tainted Play Equipment in San Andres, Manila

5 August 2012. A toxics watchdog has revealed that it has detected a high prevalence of lead, a toxic chemical, at a children’s park in Manila that recently got a makeover, courtesy of Hollywood actress Rachel Weisz of the soon to be shown movie “Bourne Legacy.”

The EcoWaste Coalition, an advocate for the elimination of lead in paint and consumer products, disclosed that 73% of the play equipment and painted surfaces that the group analyzed at the San Andres Sports Complex in Manila had lead up to over 100,000 parts per million (ppm).

The US regulatory limit for paint is 90 ppm and this applies to paints and other similar surface coatings, certain furniture, toys and other articles intended for use by children, including playground equipment.

The said sport and recreation center served as base for the production team of “Bourne Legacy,” which shot action-packed scenes in San Andres early this year.

Weisz made upbeat news when she donated an undisclosed sum of money for the rehabilitation of the playground.

“We admire Rachel Weisz’s generosity and we do not intend to cast any doubt about her sincerity to help the children of San Andres. With their well-being close to her heart, we know Rachel would never want the children to be exposed to lead, a potent brain poison, particularly in a place where they ought to play and enjoy,” affirmed Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“The usual wear-and-tear of play equipment with lead and the surface erosion due to exposure to the sun, rain and moisture will cause the paint coatings to break off over time, creating chips and dust that children unknowingly ingest as they put their hands in their mouths and thus present a lead poisoning hazard,” said Dr. Bessie Antonio, a pediatric toxicologist at East Avenue Medical Center.

According to the UN-sponsored Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, “childhood lead exposure is estimated to contribute to about 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year.”

It is globally recognized that lead is much more dangerous to children than adults, and that lead-containing paint is a major source of childhood lead exposure, the EcoWaste Coalition noted.

“Our latest findings make it all the more urgent for the government to adopt and enforce an accelerated phase out of lead-added paint to protect children from being exposed to this preventable source of exposure. Private and public entities should specify the use of certified unleaded paint in their procurement policies,” Lucero added.

Equipped with a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) chemicals analyzer, the EcoWaste Coalition went to San Andres on Tuesday, July 31, and screened the play equipment and other painted surfaces on site.

On August 3, the group notified the Manila City Government about the results through Sally Refulgente, Acting Chief of the Recreation Division. Digna Pascua, officer-in-charge of Barangay 704, Zone 77, was likewise personally informed.

Among those that showed elevated levels of lead were the merry-go-round (now broken and kept in a storeroom with 93,700 ppm of lead) and see-saw play equipment (with over 100,000 ppm of lead), which were bought out of Weisz’s donation.

The swings, slides and the various monkey bar sets were likewise found laden with excessive amounts of lead, particularly the yellow painted parts with average lead amounting to over 58,281 ppm.

Also, the EcoWaste Coalition found traces of lead in some of the playground protective rubber mats.

As a precautionary step, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the Manila City Government, together with the local barangay council, to periodically assess the state of the playground equipment to minimize their health and safety risk to child users.

Any lead paint remediation or removal measures should strictly follow the prescribed procedures such as keeping dust to a minimum, keeping children away from the work area, ensuring proper disposal of lead-containing waste, and ensuring workers wear proper respiratory protection for lead dust and that they don’t take dust home, the group stressed.

The group also called on the parents to ensure that kids wash their hands after playing outdoors, especially before meals, to wash off lead and other harmful substances that may have gotten on their hands.