St. John Paul II’s Statues Laden with Lead (EcoWaste Coalition: It’s Time to “Detox” Religious Statues, Use Lead-Safe Paint)

As the Catholic community welcomes with great
jubilation the elevation of Blessed John Paul II to sainthood this coming
Sunday, a toxics watchdog drew the attention of the public and the church on
the elevated levels of lead in statues made to memorialize the beloved Pope.
The EcoWaste Coalition detected lead, a toxic metal that can cause harm to
human health, in the paint coatings of some statues of St. John Paul II (SJPII)
that are being sold by religious craft stores and sidewalk vendors in the city
of Manila, particularly in Oroquieta and Tayuman Streets and outside Quiapo
All five samples of SJPII statues donning different liturgical vestments and
costing between P200 to P650 were found to contain lead up to almost 10,000
parts per million (ppm), way above the regulatory limit of 90 ppm, as per
screening conducted by the group using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device.
In a letter sent today to Archbishop Socrates Villegas, President of the
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,” the EcoWaste Coalition expressed
“hope that the Church will seriously look into our findings and back our
proposal for religious statue makers to voluntarily switch to lead-safe paint
Regarded by many as an “environmental pope,” SJPII spoke a lot about the environment
and the common responsibility for good stewardship of the Creation during his
26-year papacy, including the threat of pollution of the natural environment
and the protection of citizens from exposure to dangerous pollutants, the group
“In celebration of the World Year of Peace in 1990, SJPII said the ‘state has
the responsibility of ensuring that its citizens are not exposed to dangerous
pollutants or toxic wastes,’” recalled Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator of
the EcoWaste Coalition.
Lucero further noted that SJPII, addressing a workshop by the Pontifical
Academy of Sciences in 1993 on the theme “Chemical Hazards in Developing
Countries,” told the participants: “Who cannot but be deeply concerned by the
prospect of the already existing and ever expanding danger from pollution and
other side effects of the production and use of chemicals?”
“Given SJPII’s clear stance against chemical pollution, we find it only fitting
that the statues and other mementos made in honor of the ‘environmental pope’ should
be safe from health-damaging substances like lead,” she said.
“In fact, all religious statues, which many Catholic adults and kids
customarily touch and kiss as an expression of faith and reverence, should be
toxic-free,” she emphasized.
While lead exposure is detrimental to everyone, lead exposure harms children,
especially those aged six years and under, at much lower amounts, causing
damage to the brain that is generally untreatable by modern medicine and can
have a lifelong impact, the EcoWaste Coalition said.
Over time, the lead-containing paint on the surface of the statue will
deteriorate, especially with frequent patting, wiping or kissing, releasing the
lead in chip or dust that may get into the hands of young children and their
“Health authorities have concluded there is no known acceptable lead exposure
level for children, making it imperative to eliminate all preventable sources
of lead pollution,” Lucero stated.
“Even if the leaded statues are kept out of children’s reach, would it not be better
– from the perspective of occupational, consumer and environmental health – to
design and make non-toxic religious crafts? 
It’s time to detox these popular faith symbols,” she said. 
Based on the XRF screening, the following statues of SJPII were found
contaminated with lead:
1.   A 6-inch statue of SJPII wearing an egg yellow chasuble had 9,559
ppm of lead.  (Place of purchase and price: Catholic Trade Manila, Inc.,
Oroquieta St., Manila, P448)
2.  A 9-inch statuette of SJPII wearing yellow chasuble had 1,401 ppm of
lead.  (Place of purchase and price: Quiapo Church sidewalk vendor, P200)
3.  A 12-inch image of SJPII donning a yellow chasuble had 1,214 ppm of
lead.  (Place of purchase and price: HF Religious Art Shop, Tayuman St.,
Manila, P250)
4.  A 9-inch statuette of SJPII in yellow chasuble had 1,146 ppm of
lead.  (Place of purchase and price: Quiapo Church sidewalk vendor, P200)
5.  A 12-inch statue of SJPII in white chasuble and sitting on a papal
chair had 1,069 ppm of lead.  (Place of purchase and price: Sto. Niño Catholic House, Inc., Tayuman St., Manila,
In her letter to Archbishop Villegas, Lucero also cited that religious images
screened by the group in time for the Holy Week were likewise found to be
loaded with lead.  For example, an 11-inch
“Santo Niño de la Pera” had a whopping 33,300 ppm of lead.
“We further hope that the Church, inspired by SJPII’s teachings on protecting
human health and the environment, will 
go beyond making statues lead-free, but take further action to ensure
that paints used in churches and other church-run institutions such as schools,
hospitals, orphanages and other child-occupied facilities are compliant with
the country’s regulatory policy for lead,” wrote Lucero.
Last December, Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje issued a landmark chemical
control order (CCO) for lead and lead compounds that establishes a threshold
limit of 90 ppm for lead in paints, and sets a phaseout period by 2016 for
leaded decorative paints and 2019 for leaded industrial paints.