DepEd Urged to Require Lead-Free Chairs and Tables from Suppliers

While welcoming the recent approval of P941.3 million budget for the purchase of much-needed school chairs and tables, a toxics watchdog appealed to the Department of Education (DepEd) to demand certified lead-free furniture from bidders and suppliers.

“We call upon Secretary Armin Luistro to ensure that no lead contaminated furniture that could expose children to harm would be purchased using the taxpayers’ money and brought to the classrooms,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“DepEd should require bidders to provide chairs and tables that comply with standard and supported with a conformity certification,” he suggested.

The standard for furniture articles under the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is 90 parts per million (ppm).

“Sources of lead exposure among children, especially at homes, schools and playgrounds, must be eliminated as childhood lead exposure may damage the brain and cause reduced IQ and school performance,” Dizon said.

During the last Brigada Eskwela, the EcoWaste Coalition analyzed some chairs and tables using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device in one public school in Cavite and detected 1,007 ppm of lead in a student chair and 3,155 ppm in a teacher table. A day care center, also in Cavite, had chairs and tables with excessive levels of lead up to 13,600 ppm.

It also found 187 ppm of lead in a student chair, 3,574 ppm in a teacher chair and 3,648 ppm in a teacher table in one day-care center in Quezon City.

“We are ready to assist DepEd in screening school furniture as well as school amenities for lead and other toxic metals using our XRF device,” Dizon stated.

Lead, a toxic element that is notorious for damaging the developing brain and nervous system, is among the World Health Organization’s “Top 10 Chemicals of Major Public Health Concern.”

According to the WHO, “children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead, and even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and in some cases irreversible neurological damage.”

“Childhood lead exposure is estimated to contribute to about 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year,” the WHO warned.

To prevent childhood exposure to lead, the WHO, among others, has recommended some risk mitigation measures, including phasing out lead in paints and eliminating the use of lead in homes, schools, school materials and children’stoys.

Citing information from the government’s Official Gazette, the EcoWaste Coalition lauded the decision by the Department of Budget and Management (DMB) releasing P941.3 million to DepEd from the 2012 General Appropriations Act.

The said amount will be charged against DepEd’s Lump Sum for the Requirement of Basic Educational Facilities and will be used to procure chairs and tables for needy public elementary and high schools.

According to the DBM, recipient schools will get 45 arm chairs and a chair-and-table set for the class instructor/teacher for every classroom.