Raincoats Top Popular School Supplies with Highest Level of Lead

Raincoats meant to keep children dry during the rainy season can potentially expose them to a notorious brain-damaging chemical, according to the EcoWaste Coalition in its latest exposé.

The toxic watchdog uncovered lead, a neurological toxin, in raincoats and other popular school supplies that the group bought from Divisoria’s 168 Mall, Tutuban Mall and adjacent retail stores on July 22, and subsequently subjected to chemical tests by visiting scientist Dr. Joe DiGangi of the US-based IPEN.

The new set of 25 samples of school supplies tested was on top of the 435 children’s products from Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Davao City that the group had also analyzed for heavy metals.

“Out of the 25 product samples we tested, lead was detected in 15 samples (60%) ranging from 96 parts per million (ppm) up to 14,100 ppm,” reported Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

The US threshold limit for lead is 90 ppm under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

Lead, which is also a hematologic (blood) and reproductive toxin, was detected in pencil cases, raincoats and a variety of bags such as backpacks, shoulder bags, lunch bags and carry bags.

The top five samples that registered the highest lead contents include: 1) a yellow PVC Tweety raincoat (14,100 ppm of lead), 2) a light yellow PVC Tazmanian Devil raincoat (4,741 ppm), 3) a green Spiderman backpack with lunch bag (2,852 ppm), 4) a yellow Spongebob shoulder bag (2,478 ppm) and 5) a yellow Spongebob pencil case (1,561 ppm).

Lead is particularly harmful for children because it can damage or retard brain development and cause many health problems, including learning delays and disabilities, lower IQ scores and shorter attention span.

“The low levels of lead found in few items would not mean no health effects. Health experts have confirmed that there is no safe level of lead exposure, especially for children,” Dizon pointed out.

“Aside from lead, 13 school supplies contained other toxic metals such as antimony, arsenic, cadmium, and chromium,” he added.

“For example, a Spiderman backpack had 1,064 ppm of antimony, a PVC raincoat with Tweety design had 278 ppm of arsenic, a pullbag had 287 ppm of cadmium and a Mickey Mouse pencil case had 4,026 ppm of chromium, all exceeding levels of concern,” he stated.

DiGangi used a portable device called X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer to screen the school supplies for toxic metals. The XRF is routinely used by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission in their regulatory functions.

“The results of our probe should compel manufacturers to step up, remove chemicals of concern from their products and switch to non-toxic ingredients that will not jeopardize the health of children who are most vulnerable to toxins,” said DiGangi, who is the Science and Technical Advisor of IPEN.

Children, are prone to toxic exposure because they breathe more air, consume more food and water, and are often exposed to harmful substances resulting from their common hand-to-mouth activities and not to forget that their vital organs and systems are still immature and developing, DiGangi explained.

As a result of the investigation, the EcoWaste Coalition has put forward these proposals to the industry to ensure that only safe school supplies are offered for sale and use by children:

1. Manufacturers should immediately phase out lead and other toxic chemicals in the production process and shift to safer ingredients.

2. Manufacturers should actively generate and disclose the chemical content of children’s products as a condition for sale in the Philippines.

3. Manufacturers should facilitate and ensure consumers’ “right to know” about chemicals in products including adequate and truthful labeling to promote consumer choice.

The EcoWaste Coalition also urged wholesalers and retailers to insist on chemical content information from manufacturers and refuse to sell the products if the information is not provided.