Valentine’s Wish: DENR Chemical Control Order (CCO) vs Toxic Lead

Have a heart, let a strong health-based policy regulating lead and lead compounds be your Valentine’s gift to Filipino children, a civil society network for Zero Waste and chemical safety told environment officials today.

Armed with a hand-drawn Valentine’s card and a 4-page letter, representatives of the EcoWaste Coalition hammered home the message that a toxics-free environment safe from lead and other harmful substances and wastes is a birthright of every child.

In their letter to Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje and Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Director Juan Miguel T. Cuna, the group reiterated the need to finalize and approve the Chemical Control Order (CCO) for lead and lead compounds, pending since 2007, to protect human health and the environment from lead exposure and pollution.

“This essential effort was practically quiescent until 2011 when the EMB, responding to the clamor from public interest groups for a strong health-based policy, called for stakeholders’ meetings and thus resuscitating the dormant process and breathing new hope for the requested CCO,” Jeiel Guarino, Policy and Communications Officer for the Lead Paint Elimination Project, EcoWaste Coalition.

As of today, there seems to be no clear indication that the CCO after sixth revision will be finalized and approved soon enough to regulate lead and its compounds, which belong to the Philippine First Priority Chemicals List that the DENR has concluded “to potentially pose unreasonable risk to public health, workplace and the environment,” lamented the EcoWaste Coalition.

“The apparent delay, we regret to surmise, could be sending a wrong signal to the industries about the necessity and urgency to switch to non-lead inputs, particularly to the local paint industry, which has publicly drawn attention to the ‘lack of government regulation’,” Guarino said.

The need for a strong CCO has become even more evident and compelling, the EcoWaste Coalition noted, if the results of the group’s widely-publicized investigations on lead and other chemicals in products and to some extent, lead in dust, soil and waste, are taken into account.

In a global paint sampling in 2008, lead up to 189,164 ppm was detected in 67% of the 15 enamel paint samples from the Philippines that were analyzed in a government-accredited private laboratory in India (average lead content: 28,354 ppm). A follow-up study detected lead up to 161,651 ppm in 69% of 35 paint samples analyzed at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

From 2011 up till now, the EcoWaste Coalition has discovered outrageous levels of lead in toys and other children’s articles, playground equipment, vinyl flooring materials, beverage and food containers and cosmetics and personal care products.

High concentrations of lead were also detected in seasonal products such as Chinese New Year lucky charms and ornaments, Christmas lights, candles, fireworks, and election campaign paraphernalia of late. A strong health-based CCO for lead and lead compounds will contribute to the prevention and reduction of lead exposure from such avoidable sources, the group insisted.

If enforced, the CCO will, among other prohibitions, ban the addition of lead in paints as drier or pigment above the limit of 90 ppm, as well as prohibit the use of lead in the manufacturing of toys, cosmetics, school supplies and packaging for food and beverage, and in the manufacturing of pipes and PVC stabilizers.

“The CCO, we hope, will also ban the use of lead in the manufacturing of lead-added glazes and paints on containers, vessels and utensils used for food and drinks, which was inadvertently omitted in the latest version of the CCO,” Guarino said.

Unless the DENR-EMB act fast enough, the EcoWaste Coalition expressed fear that the Philippines will surely:

End up with more people, especially young children, women of child-bearing age and workers, unsuspectingly exposed to lead and falling victims to the often irreversible neurological, reproductive, developmental and behavioral problems caused by lead exposure;

End up with more lead-tainted homes, day care centers, schools, playgrounds and other facilities frequented by children that will require costly remediation to make these facilities safe, especially for young children and pregnant women;

End up with more lead-containing consumer products such as toys and cosmetics entering our ports and markets without restraint, and thereby making our nation a dumping ground for unsafe goods; and

End up with more hazardous lead-contaminated waste stream, making waste collection, recycling and disposal more risky for waste workers and recyclers.