“Leaded Santo Niño de la Suerte
Eight statuettes of the Santo Niño with high lead levels
“Unleaded” Santo Niño de Cebu
Four statuettes of the Santo Niño with no detectable lead.
Not all images of the Santo Niño, revered by many Filipino Catholics, are suitable for children.
The EcoWaste Coalition, an advocate for chemical safety and zero waste, made this unambiguous observation after screening 12 statuettes of the Holy Child for lead, a toxic chemical that reduces intelligence and is known to harm a child’s brain and health even at low doses.
The group’s latest probe came on the heels of a recent statement by Archbishop Socrates Villegas, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), urging the faithful to bring images of the Santo Niño and dance the ‘Sinulog’ to welcome Pope Francis at the concluding Mass of his visit this Sunday in Rizal Park.
“We conducted the probe to find out if the venerated images of Santo Niño are safe from lead and suitable for kids to kiss or touch as many do,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
“We picked the inexpensive ones with paint coatings as lead is still used as pigment or drying agent in some decorative paints,” he said, highlighting that “chalking, chipping or cracking lead paint and household dust are the most frequent sources of lead exposure in and around the home.”
“We did not include images garbed in traditional gold and green or red royal capes and special clothes as they should be generally lead-free,” he explained.
The probe is timely as both the Santo Niño Month and the Zero Waste Month are observed in January, the EcoWaste Coalitions stated.
“All kids have the right to live, play and rest in happy, healthy and toxic-free homes,” Dizon emphasized.
The statuettes, measuring 3.5 to 11 inches and costing between P35 to P200 each, were procured from religious stores in Santa Cruz and Quiapo, Manila and then screened for lead and other toxic metals using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device.
Out of the 12 statuettes, eight were found to contain lead in the range of 261 to 13,600 parts per million (ppm), exceeding the 90 ppm threshold limit for leaded decorative paints to be phased out by 2016 under the Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
All 8 statuettes with lead also yielded positive for arsenic and chromium. Among those found laden with such toxic metals were paint coated images of Santo Niño de la Suerte, Santo Niño de Palaboy, Santo Niño de Prague and the “welcome” Santo Niño .
“The fact that no lead was detected in four other statuettes proves that it is possible to make kid-safe images,” he pointed out.
According to the EcoWaste Coalition, the customary practice of Filipino Catholics to touch or kiss honored icons or to wipe them with handkerchiefs or towels may cause their paint coatings to deteriorate and come off over time, creating lead chip or dust that children may ingest or inhale
To prevent potential exposure to lead and other toxic metals, the group urged consumers of religious products to avoid those with paint coatings unless duly marked as lead-safe. It also urged religious craft makers to use lead-safe paints and to properly label their products.
This is not the first time that the group detected toxic metals, particularly lead, in religious products.
Last year, the group discovered elevated levels of lead in several religious images. For example, a statuette of St. John Paul II sent to a private laboratory for lead content analysis was found to contain 113,200 ppm of lead.
In a common letter sent in June 2014 to Luis Antonio Cardinal Gokim Tagle and Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the EcoWaste Coalition “request(ed) for church action to promote lead safe religious products, as well as lead safe environment for children and all people.”