Chemical safety advocates from the EcoWaste Coalition stressed this point at a press briefing held today at their office in Quezon City to call attention to toxic chemicals creeping around popular Chinese New Year lucky charms and curios.
The group recently bought 30 assorted samples from various street vendors and shops in Binondo, Manila and screened them for toxic metals using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer.
Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect reported that arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury were detected above levels of concern in 14 of the 30 samples (47%).
“We regret to announce that some lucky charms and decors are too contaminated with one or more heavy metals, some of which are carcinogenic, that can endanger human health,” she said.
“Maging mapagnatanong, maging mapanuri at maging maingat” (be questioning, be analytical and besafe),” she advised consumers.
For instance, excessive amounts of lead, a neurotoxin, were detected in six samples in the range of 108 ppm to 14,800, way above the 90 parts per million (ppm) limit under the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.
Lucero explained that lead is highly toxic and harmful to human health even in very low doses and can cause brain damage, birth defects, cancer and other serious ailments.
Sonia Mendoza, a retired chemist and head of Mother Earth Foundation, expressed concern that the toxic materials found in some lucky charms and ornaments can be released under typical use and later when the items are discarded or disposed of.
“Product wastes containing heavy metals, in particular, are complicated to handle precisely because of their toxic ingredients that can put the health of waste workers, especially the informal recyclers, at risk,” she said.
Among the “dirtiest” samples with elevated levels of toxic metals were:
1. A dragon figurine containing 14,800 ppm of lead, 2,371 ppm of arsenic and 252 ppm of cadmium.
2. A bagua loaded with 13,200 ppm of lead, 8,962 ppm of chromium, 2,174 ppm of arsenic, 157 ppm of cadmium and 41 ppm of mercury.
3. A wu lo charm for good health with 4,988 ppm of lead, 4,074 ppm of chromium, 901 ppm of arsenic, 91 ppm of cadmium and 22 ppm of mercury.
4. A golden bank with 1,121 ppm of lead, 503 ppm of chromium, 177 ppm of arsenic and 83 ppm of cadmium.
5. A Maneki Neko lucky cat with 114 ppm of cadmium.
The group pointed out that arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury are included in the World Health Organization’s “Ten Chemicals of Major Public Health Concern” and are likewise found, along with chromium, in the “Priority Chemicals List” of the Philippines.
During the press briefing, the EcoWaste Coalition presented key recommendations to the industry, the government and the consumers, such as:
1. For manufacturers to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals and to switch to safer alternatives and for them to disclose full chemical information on product labels.
2. For the government to ensure that only safe products are allowed to be manufactured, imported, distributed and sold in the market.
3. For consumers to assert their right to information and to product safety.