EcoWaste Coalition Bares “Toxic Truth” in Some School Supplies, Calls for Action to Avoid Childhood Exposure to Harmful Chemicals

As the resumption of classes draws closer, a toxics watchdog pressed for heightened consumer vigilance to prevent children from being exposed to health-damaging chemicals in some school supplies.

At a press briefing conducted at its office in Quezon City today, the EcoWaste Coalition bared the “toxic truth” about harmful substances creeping around some “back-to-school” children’s products, particularly polyvinyl (PVC) school supplies, that the group bought from formal and informal retailers, mostly from Divisoria.

These harmful substances include lead (a potent neurotoxin that damages the brain and the nervous system), cadmium (a renal toxin and a known human carcinogen) and phthalates (a group of endocrine disrupting chemicals that includes di-ethyl hexyl phthalate or DEHP, a suspected human carcinogen).

Based on the three-phase investigation it conducted, the EcoWaste Coalition revealed the following findings:

For Phase I, nine of 25 diverse samples of school supplies purchased on May 8 and screened with X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer on May 9 had lead from 229 parts per million (ppm) to 3,863 ppm.

For Phase II, 11 of 14 rainwear samples bought on May 14 and analyzed with XRF on May 15 had lead ranging from over 90 ppm to 9,475 ppm of lead, while 3 samples had cadmium up 254 ppm.

For Phase III, four of the 5 different samples procured in late April and subjected to independent laboratory analysis via Gas Chromatographic-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) from May 10 to 15 failed the phthalate limit, with one sample having 35.86% of di-iso-nonyl phthalate (DINP).

Under the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the limit for total lead concentration is 90 ppm and 75 ppm for soluble cadmium, while the limit for phthalates is 0.1 % by total weight (or 1,000 ppm).

“We find this worrisome as the market is teeming with PVC school supplies and consumers are unaware of the dangers posed by their secret toxic ingredients,” said Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“Kaya naman kami ay nananawagan sa mga mamimiling Pilipino na igiit ang kanilang karapatan sa kalusugan lalo’t higit ang kaligtasan ng mga bata laban sa mga produktong maaaring magdulot ng pinsala sa kanila,” she emphasized.

Dr. Bessie Antonio, a pediatric toxicologist from the East Avenue Medical Center, said that “exposure to cadmium, lead and phthalates can adversely affect a child’s healthy and well-rounded development and should be prevented by all means such as through the provision of school materials that are guaranteed safe for kids.”

During the press briefing, the EcoWaste Coalition drew attention, among others, to the hazards posed by phthalates, the synthetic chemical additives used in the production of PVC plastics to increase their softness, elasticity and durability.

Because phthalates are not chemically attached to plastics, they can disperse or leak into the environment over time, and interfere with endocrine or hormone functions.

Birth defects in baby boys, premature breast development in girls, male genital abnormalities, low sperm quality and testicular cancer are among the harmful consequences of exposure to phthalates.

Based on the Intertek laboratory analysis of the five samples, four samples were found to contain phthalates above the 0.1% limit:

1. A “Dora the Explorer” pink PVC raincoat bought from National Book Store (SM North EDSA) had 35.86% DINP.

2. A metal ruler with a rubberized part containing “Smileys” from National Book Store (NBS Superstore, Cubao) had 0.534% DNOP and 0.285% DINP.

3. A red PVC plastic envelope with images of “Angry Birds” from Expressions (Isetann Mall, Quiapo) had 1.89% DINP, 2.21% DEHP and 2.86% DIDP.

4. A “Princess Mica” PVC lunch bag bought from Expressions (Isetann Mall, Quiapo) had 2.57% DEHP, 0.280% DBP and 0.189% DINP.

The five samples sent to the laboratory were also screened for lead using an XRF spectrometer and lead over the 90 ppm limit was found in three samples: the “Smileys” in the ruler, the painted “Angry Birds” in the red plastic envelope and the ellipsis design in the “Adventurer” plastic envelope.

Because of their adverse health effects, especially to young children, the European Union, the United States of America and other countries have imposed restrictions or bans on some phthalates, including BBP, DBP DEHP, DIDP, DINP and DNOP.

While the Philippines has not phased out or banned phthalates, the Food and Drug Administration (formerly Bureau of Food and Drugs) as early as 1999 has issued a warning on health hazards caused by phthalates in PVC toys “as these have been found to leach out from the toys when they are sucked or chewed as commonly practiced by children.”

At the press briefing, the EcoWaste Coalition put forward these calls to action:

To Consumers:

A: Insist on your right to information: look for and read the label carefully and be inquisitive.
B. Avoid PVC school supplies that may contain toxic additives such as cadmium, lead and phthalates.
C. Refrain from buying products with strong chemical smell and painted parts or designs that could later chip off.
D. Ask for receipt or any proof of purchase.

To Sellers:

A. Obtain a certification from suppliers that their goods are safe from hazardous chemicals.
B. Only offer goods that are certified “non-toxic”‘ and adequately labeled.

To Manufacturers:

A. Only produce and market certified toxics-free children’s products.
B. Ensure full disclosure of product information, including chemical ingredients and their potential health effects.

To the Government:

A. Assign product safety inspectors and consumer complaint officers in Divisoria and other market hubs for school supplies.

B. Enact and enforce a law that will prohibit the use of cadmium, lead, phthalates and other major chemicals of concern in children’s products.


References on lead, cadmium and phthalates: