EcoWaste Coalition Finds Most Papal Souvenirs Non-Toxic, But Shocked to Detect Lead-Loaded Pewter Pendants in Some Items

Non-toxic papal souvenir items (above); pendants with high lead levels (below)
Not all souvenir items for the much awaited
visit of Pope Francis are created equal, particularly in terms of toxicity.
The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental watchdog promoting chemical safety and
zero waste, made the discovery after screening some papal souvenirs for toxic
metals using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device.
“Most papal souvenirs that we have screened for lead are thankfully non-toxic.
Pope Francis, who has a master’s degree in chemistry, would be happy to know
that many faith-inspired products are safe from such poison and generally pose
no risk to human health and the environment,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of
the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
Souvenir products found with low or non-detectable levels of toxic metals
include button pins, wooden wrist rosaries with no metallic pendants,
“estampitas,”  calendars and t-shirts, as well as miscellaneous things
such as a bag tag, I.D. lace, refrigerator magnet and ballpen.
“However, we got the shock of our life to discover souvenir items with pewter
or pewter-like pendants of Pope Francis and the Papal Cross that had dangerous
levels of lead. Some are of a size that could be mouthed by children as if it
was a toy,” he said.
Exposure to lead has been linked to major health issues such as learning
disabilities, anemia, joint and muscle weaknesses, behavioral problems, organ
failure and even death.
Sought for advice by the EcoWaste Coalition,  Dr. Scott Clark, professor
emeritus of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati, USA, said
that: “Children 6 years old and under are most at risk because they  are
more vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead.  They absorb a higher
percentage of the lead and their systems are developing at a higher rate. 
They also tend to put things in their mouth more often, including non-food
things like toys.”
Dr. Clark, who is advising the EcoWaste Coalition for its lead paint
elimination project, further said “Jewelry containing lead poses a particular
concern because children are prone to placing jewelry in their mouths, which
can result in absorption of dangerous levels of lead. Small pieces of leaded
jewelry can even be swallowed which can be fatal because of its lead content”
In USA, almost half a million units of pewter pendants and charms were recalled
in 2008 due to high levels of lead.
Based on the XRF screening conducted by the group, all samples of papal
souvenirs adorned with pewter or pewter-like pendants, sold for as low as P10
to P150 each, had lead in the range of 17% to 42%, way above the 0.05 % imit.
Among these were a wrist rosary with a cross pendant measuring 2 cm. that had
42% lead, a wooden bracelet with an oval Pope Francis pendant measuring 2.5 cm.
with 35% lead and a necklace with a Papal Cross pendant measuring 4 cm. with 36% lead.
As defined by the American Pewter Guild, pewter is a “metal alloy product of
which the chemical composition shall be not less than 90% Grade A Tin, with the
remainder composed of metals appropriate for use in pewter.”
While pewter products contain trace amounts of lead because lead is naturally
present in tin ores, ASTM Standard restricts the maximum amount of lead
impurity in pewter to 0.05% or 500 parts per million (ppm), which is the also
the lead content limit set by the US Food and Drugs Administration for pewter
in contact with food. Since jewelry items are often used as toys, their lead
content should not exceed 100 ppm as per US Consumer Product Safety Improvement
Act, particularly for accessible substrates of
children’s jewelry.
The manufacturer has not provided the EcoWaste Coalition with proof of
compliance with the above standards that it formally requested last Monday,
January 12.  
The group urged those who have already bought the lead-laden items to keep them
out of children’s reach.  It also requested distributors to voluntarily
withdraw the items from the market and for the government to provide locations
where the items can be returned for safe disposal.
The EcoWaste Coalition has asked the government to regulate jewelry, including
fashion, religious and children’s jewelry, for toxic metals such as lead,
cadmium and others, and to provide instructions for their proper labeling to
assist consumers in making sound purchasing decisions.
Dizon noted that none of the souvenir items provided information on their
chemical content depriving consumers of their right to know.



1. Definition of Pewter:


2. Lead in Pewter


3. Recalled
Pewter Pendants and Charms: