Toxic Plasticizer Detected in School Supplies

Quezon City.  Excessive amounts of toxic plasticizer banned in toys were detected in some school supplies sold locally.

The EcoWaste Coalition, which is running a “waste-free, toxic-free” back-to-school campaign, made the revelation as classes in public schools resume this week.

High levels of phthalates, the chemical additives used to soften plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), were uncovered in 4 out of 5 samples of plastic-based school supplies sent by the group to SGS, a global testing company.

As per Department of Health (DOH) Administrative Order 2009-0005-A as amended in December 2011, phthalates DEHP, DBP or BBP in concentrations exceeding 1%  are banned in the manufacturing of toys, while phthalates DINP, DIDP or DNOP above 1% are prohibited in toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth.

According to the laboratory analyses, the following four products had excessive levels of restricted phthalates:

1.  SM Transparent Plastic Backpack, 27.10% DEHP, P299
2.  Creative Gear “Fashion Girl” Backpack, 25.60% DEHP , P599.75
3. “Barbie” Raincoat, 20.80% DEHP and 7.16% DINP , P100
4. “Winnie the Pooh” giant paper clip, 14.80% DEHP, P7.50

The fifth item, a cellphone-type yellow eraser, passed the phthalate laboratory test.

Based on animal studies, the lowest levels of exposure to specific phthalates may have critical toxic effects on reproduction, on development, on the liver and on the thyroid. Phthalates have been linked to genital abnormalities in boys, early onset of puberty in girls, asthma, obesity and cancer. 

Because of their potential adverse effects on human health, governments, including the Philippines, have imposed controls on the use of phthalates in children’s products such as toys.

“Our latest investigation shows that some school supplies are secretly loaded with toxic phthalates that can silently damage a child’s health,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“Since phthalates are considered ‘ubiquitous environmental contaminant,’ it’s all the more crucial for all products aimed at kids to be free of phthalates to prevent and reduce childhood exposures to such toxic compounds ,” he pointed out. 

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “children have been reported as having the highest exposures to phthalates, and that their exposures are often greater than those in adults…due to increased intakes of food, water and air on a bodyweight basis, as well as children’s unique exposure pathways such as mouthing of objects and ingestion of non-food items.”

“As we advise parents to be wary of products laden with phthalates, we urge the DOH to expand its current policy on phthalates to include all other children’s products, including childcare articles and school supplies, and to improve enforcement of such policy,” Dizon added.

“As a Zero Waste advocacy group, we are also concerned as to how PVC school supplies are disposed of after their useful lives end.  If PVC discards are burned in dumps, cement kilns or incinerators, these materials will generate extremely harmful byproducts called dioxins, a known carcinogen,” he further said.

To reduce and prevent exposures to phthalates in school supplies, the EcoWaste Coalition recommends the following tips adopted from the “Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies”:

1.  Avoid school supplies made vinyl plastic or PVC plastic, or those marked “3,” “V” or”PVC.”

2.  Avoid backpacks with shiny plastic designs as they often contain PVC and may contain lead.

3.  Avoid clays made of PVC.

4.  Avoid notebooks containing metal spirals with colored plastic coating that may contain PVC.

5.  Avoid metal paper clips coated with PVC plastic.