Watchdog Aghast at Continued Sale of Deadly Silver Jewelry Cleaners

Quezon City. Aghast at the ease of buying banned silver jewelry cleaning solutions that can cause cyanide poisoning and death when ingested, a watchdog on toxic chemicals has urged the authorities to impose the strong hand of the law against violators.

The EcoWaste Coalition urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) to enforce the ban on the illegal sale of the over-the-counter jewelry cleaners that contain cyanide, a highly toxic chemical that can endanger life.

The University of the Philippines – National Poison Management and Control Center last Friday informed the EcoWaste Coalition that cases of accidental or suicidal intake of silver cleaners continue to pile up despite the ban issued by the DENR-EMB in July 2009.

In addition to cyanide, some of the toxic silver cleaners, which are also marketed as silver dip, silver polish and silver sparkle, contain thiourea, a probable human carcinogen that may cause irreversible effects, infertility, allergic skin reaction, liver damage and may be fatal if swallowed. The cleaning agents also contain ammonia, isopropanol, nitric acid and sulfuric acid.

“Our random market investigation shows that the ban on the sale of cyanide and thiourea-containing silver cleaners has been largely ignored as confirmed by the ease of buying the illegal stuff from uncaring jewelry shops,” said Manny Calonzo, President of the EcoWaste Coalition.

Over the past weekend, the group’s chemical safety volunteers went to 10 shopping malls in Caloocan, Manila and Quezon City and without any difficulty bought silver jewelry cleaners from 19 shops, some of which have zero labeling at all.

The poisonous items were being sold for P40 to P80 in silver jewelry stores located in Araneta Square, Ever Gotesco Grand Central and Victory Central Mall in Caloocan City; Isetann Recto, Manila City Plaza, Seahorse Mall and Tutuban Center Mall in Manila; and in Ever Gotesco Commonwealth, Farmers’ Plaza and Gateway Mall in Quezon City,

The EcoWaste Coalition will forward the purchased items, along with the receipts, to the DENR-EMB for appropriate action.

The DENR-EMB has previously revealed that silver jewelry cleaners that the agency bought and subjected to laboratory testing showed “high content of cyanide which is fatal to humans when ingested.”

In separate letters sent to the EcoWaste Coalition and to the Inter-Agency Committee on Environmental Health (IACEH) in July 2009, EMB Director Julian Amador confirmed the highly toxic property of the silver cleaners.

“The risk that these jewelry cleaners containing cyanide pose to public health is extremely high, as evident in the reported casualties, thus, its ban for commercial use will be strictly enforced,” Director Amador said.

In the interest of public health and safety, the EcoWaste Coalition submitted to the DENR-EMB a five-point action plan to halt the obvious violation of the agency’s directive banning the sale of cyanide-laced silver jewelry cleaners.

These are:

1. Direct the Environmental Law Enforcement Task Force to conduct sustained surveillance against trade in cyanide-laced silver jewelry cleaners and punish the violators.

2. Summon jewelry shop proprietors and managers to educate them about the Chemical Control Order for Cyanide and Cyanide Compounds, the prohibition against the sale of cyanide-containing silver jewelry cleaners and the corresponding fines and penalties.

3. Prosecute importers and distributors to cut the supply chain.

4. Produce basic information, education and communication (IEC) materials (i.e., leaflets to inform consumers, jewelry shop owners and employees, law enforcers, and other concerned entities).

5. Promote information about safe alternatives for polishing tarnished silver jewelry.

“We hope that the DENR-EMB will exert every effort to rid the market of these toxic solutions in line with the goal of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management of improving measures to prevent and eliminate harmful effects of chemicals on public health and the environment,” Calonzo stated.