EcoWaste Warns vs Lead-Tainted Graduation Medals

An environmental network promoting Zero Waste schools and children’s safety from toxic chemicals has alerted school officials about graduation medals that may be tainted with lead, a chemical that can cause permanent brain injury.

In a statement released ahead of the graduation rites next month, the EcoWaste Coalition’s Task Force on Chemical Safety cautions private and public schools, as well as child care and learning centers, against procuring or accepting medals made of lead alloy or embellished with lead-containing paint.

The group urged school officials, particularly procurement personnel, to exercise utmost precaution when choosing and giving medals, reiterating that “even very low levels of lead cause brain damage in children.”

If the safety of the medals ordered or purchased is not guaranteed, the EcoWaste Coalition exhorted schools to advise recipients not to play with, bite, lick or suck on their medals to avoid the possibility of ingesting lead.  Children and other people are exposed to lead via inhalation, ingestion, and, in minimal cases, through skin absorption.

The EcoWaste Coalition issued the warning after analyzing the heavy metal contents of 30 medals, mostly for kindergarten, preparatory and grade school achievers, lent by colleagues or bought from medal makers in Sta. Cruz and Quiapo, Manila.
Using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, the group detected lead in 22 of the 30 samples (73%) way above the US allowable limit of 90 parts per million (ppm) for lead in paint or any similar surface coatings.  No detectable levels of lead were found in unpainted, generic “gold,” “silver” and “bronze” medals.
A yellow-painted sample led the pack of “dirty medals,” with a whopping 123,800 ppm of lead.

The other top five “dirty medals” had elevated levels of lead at 74,400, 48,000, 46,100, 39,500 and 37,000  ppm each.

Two “unofficial” medals showing the blue and red logo of the Department of Education (DepEd) had 943 and 14,100 of lead, respectively.

“We find it odd that lead, a nasty chemical linked to delayed development, stunted growth, reduced IQ scores and behavioral problems, is used in making medals that are meant to savor a child’s academic and extra-curricular achievements,” said Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“Experts have not identified a safe threshold for lead exposure, especially among kids.  This is why we insist that children’s products, including medals, school supplies and toys, should be certified lead-free.  We need to take every possible step to reduce lead exposure among our children,” she emphasized.

“DepEd should step in and direct schools to give out only child-safe medals with no lead and other chemicals of concern in austere, Zero Waste graduation rites,” she stated.

DepEd should amend its graduation guidelines and add in a policy that will protect youngsters from exposure to lead-containing medals, the EcoWaste Coalition suggested.

Citing information from the World Health Organization, the EcoWaste Coalition warned that “at high levels of acute exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions and even death.”

“The consequences of brain injury from exposure to lead in early life are loss of intelligence, shortening of attention span and disruption of behaviour. Because the human brain has little capacity for repair, these effects are untreatable and irreversible,” the WHO said.

Aside from lead in products, some of the other major sources of children’s exposure as identified by the WHO are lead added to petrol, lead-based paints and pigments, lead in ceramic glazes, lead in electronic waste, lead released by the incineration of lead-containing waste, and lead in the food chain, via contaminated soil.

The EcoWaste Coalition is a national network of more than 150 public interest groups pursuing sustainable and just solutions to waste, climate change and chemical issues towards the envisioned Zero Waste 2020 goal.