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Watch Group Calls for Removal of Toxic School Supplies from the Market

Cadmium and lead do not belong in school supplies; keep them off your back-to-school buying list

Highly toxic cadmium and lead  do not belong in school supplies that are meant to help kids with their education and development.

At a press briefing in Quezon City, the EcoWaste Coalition, a watch group on toxic chemicals, products, and wastes, pressed for the market removal of school supplies laden with health-damaging hazardous substances such as cadmium and lead amid the back-to-school shopping frenzy.

The group sought the removal of unsafe school supplies after tests confirmed high concentrations of cadmium and lead in crayons, watercolor sets, backpacks and raincoat procured by the group from various retail outlets in Manila and sent to a government-accredited private laboratory for analysis.

“Children’s products such as school supplies should not pose toxic health risks to their young users.  To reduce the possibility of exposures, parents should be cautious and keep hazardous substances like cadmium and lead off their back-to-school buying list.  Unsafe school supplies should be withdrawn from the market and disposed of properly,” stated Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

Health expert Dr. Visitacion Antonio of the East Avenue Medical Center said: “Children have little control over products marketed for their use like school supplies.  It is therefore important for us, adults, to ensure children’s access to safe products to avoid chemical exposures even at low levels that may result in negative health effects, including damage to the brain and the central nervous system.”

As per laboratory test reports,  Artex Fine Water Colors (yellow cake), MPC Classique Water Colors (yellow cake) and Fairyland Crayons (orange stick) had 22,300, 5,500 and 200 parts per million (ppm) of lead, way above the 90 ppm regulatory limit.  While a McQueen backpack and a “Ben 10” polyvinyl chloride (PVC) raincoat contained 500 and 190 ppm of lead.

Backpacks with “Frozen” and “Hello Kitty” characters tested positive for cadmium at 970 and 780 ppm, respectively, exceeding the 95 ppm limit.  The lead-containing “Ben 10” PVC raincoat was also found to contain 370 ppm of cadmium.

The EcoWaste Coalition revealed that despite the prohibition on their sale by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), lead-tainted Artex, MPC Classique and Fairyland art materials are still being sold in the market, pointing to the need to strictly enforce product recall order.

The group explained that children are most easily exposed to lead, cadmium and other hazardous substances because they tend to breathe more air, drink more water and eat more food compared to adults; they tend to put their fingers or objects to their mouths and thus increase the potential to ingest toxicants in dust or soil; and because their brains, bodies and immune systems are still developing.

Listed among the “ten chemicals of major public health concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO), cadmium and lead are highly hazardous and can generate a wide range of negative health effects, especially in fetuses and children.

According to WHO, cadmium “exerts toxic effects on the kidneys, the skeletal and respiratory systems, and is classified as a human carcinogen.”

“Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems,” said WHO, stressing that “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.”

To protect children from being exposed to unsafe school supplies, the EcoWaste Coalition urged consumers to consider these buying tips:

  1. Do not buy school supplies like art materials banned by the FDA due to their toxic content.
  1. Avoid buying PVC-made school supplies that may contain prohibited or restricted toxic additives.
  1. Refrain from buying painted school supplies unless certified as lead-safe.
  1. Check the product label, including hazard warnings and safety precautions.
  1. Choose school supplies that are notified/registered with the FDA, and supplied, distributed and sold by FDA-licensed establishments.