Toxics Watchdog Raises Concern Over Lead Paint in Children’s Playgrounds

A watchdog promoting public awareness and action against toxic chemicals in the environment has found lead, a brain poison, in some public playgrounds in the City of Manila.

The EcoWaste Coalition made the disclosure following an investigation by the group’s “AlerToxic Patrol” last Monday, 28 November 2011, to determine the use of lead-added paint in common play equipment in the city’s public parks.

X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer was used to screen paint in monkey bars, see saws, slides, swings and other playsets for lead.

Lead, a toxic metal, has been on the spotlight for the last few months due to excessive levels found in tests commissioned by the EcoWaste Coalition on hundreds of product samples such as toys, school supplies, Halloween accessories, mugs and other consumer items.

Engr. Ramir Castro of QES (Manila), Inc. performed the tests on site using a portable XRF analyzer that shoots beam into the painted material of popular play equipment at the Rizal Park Children’s Playground in Ermita and Plaza Azul, Quirino Ave., Pandacan, Plaza de la Virgen, West Zamora St., Pandacan and Dakota Playground, Adriatico St., Malate.

Out of the 29 play equipment tested, lead was found in 16 samples (55%) with levels ranging from “ND” (non detectable) to 200,700 parts per million (ppm), way beyond the lead in paint limit of 90 ppm under Section 101 of the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

The Dakota Playground at the corner of Adriatico St. and Quirino Ave. in front of Manila Zoo tested with the most lead-tainted play equipment in the range of 44,800 ppm to 200,700 ppm.

Yellow, orange, red, pink, green and brown are the colours that tested with most lead.

“Our findings should stir the city government to undertake lead hazard assessment and remedial action to ensure that playgrounds and other facilities frequented by children are safe from dangerous chemicals,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“Exposure to lead specifically damages our children’s brains and their development. Knowing there is no safe level of lead exposure for children without harmful effects, we urge our government leaders to fast track a child-friendly policy that will promote lead-safe paint and uphold our children’s right to health,” said Manny Calonzo, EcoWaste Coalition’s Steering Committee member.

The chipping, peeling or weathering of lead-based paints contributes to childhood lead exposure as kids often put their hands and objects to their mouths and play close to the ground where paint dust collects, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

In a letter delivered on November 29 to the office of Mayor Alfredo Lim, Executive Director Juliet Horfilla Villegas of the National Parks Development Committee and concerned barangay leaders, the EcoWaste Coalition put forward these five recommendations:

1. Cordon off the lead-tainted equipment, particularly those that are already worn out and with chipping paint, and either replace or stabilize them by repainting with a certified lead-free paint.

2. Avoid disturbing lead-containing paint to prevent the dispersal of contaminated chips, flakes or dust that children can breathe or swallow or come in contact with their skin.

3. Conduct visual inspection and lead hazard assessment of all children’s playgrounds, as well as maternity and pediatric wards, day care centers and schools in the city, to identify contaminated fixtures and facilities and ensure professional remediation to ensure children’s safety.

4. Lead-containing equipment in good condition should be regularly monitored for chipping, flaking or weathering.

5. Check the lead levels in soil within the playground to determine if lead has built up there, especially in spots where children often gather and play.

”Children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead, and even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and, in some cases, irreversible neurological damage,” according to the World Health Organization.

The premier global health agency has determined no safe levels for childhood lead exposure.

Common symptoms of lead poisoning, which can vary depending on the level of lead in a child’s blood, nutrition and other factors, include behavioural and learning disabilities, lower IQ, hearing difficulties and slowed growth.

A study by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests that lead used in paint on playground equipment may present a serious poisoning hazard for children under six years-old, concluding that the problem arises principally with older paint where it has deteriorated and flaked due to weather conditions, age and usage.


Additional Information:

Key results per playground:

1. Plaza Azul, Children’s Playground, Quirino Ave., Pandacan: 6 out of 8 samples had lead up to 79,000 ppm

2. Plaza de la Virgen Children’s Playground, West Zamora St., Pandacan: 2 out of 8 samples had lead up to 190,000 ppm

3. Dakota Children’s Playground, Adriatico St., Malate: 5 out of 6 samples had lead up to 200,700 ppm with one sample laced with 776 ppm of cadmium

4. Rizal Park Children’s Playground, Ermita: 3 out of 7 samples had lead up to 7,126 ppm