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EcoWaste bares hazardous chemicals in some school supplies 

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The toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition has found hazardous chemicals lurking in some school supplies being sold in the local market.

“Our recent market investigation shows that school supplies and accessories made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or vinyl plastic and those coated with paint may contain toxic cadmium and/or lead, and are sold with no warning labels,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.  “We need laws and regulations that will keep toxic chemicals out of all children’s products.  As socially responsible companies need not wait for government controls before doing what is right, we urge manufacturers to voluntarily shift to non-toxic substitutes.  In the meantime, we ask them to properly label and disclose chemicals used in making their products.”

“Children’s exposure to lead, cadmium and other hazardous chemicals like phthalates in PVC plastic school supplies, even in low doses, must be avoided as these substances are known to cause harmful health effects,” said Dr. Geminn Louis Apostol of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health.  “Young children are at greater risk of exposure to these toxicants compared to adults because their brains and organs are not yet fully developed and they tend to put objects into their mouths.  Exposure to lead, in particular, can damage a child’s brain and nervous system, slow her/his growth and development, and cause learning, speaking and hearing difficulties and behavioral problems.”

In time for the upcoming resumption of in-person classes on August 22, the group conducted a market investigation from June 4 to July 9, gathering 85 assorted types of school supplies and accessories from various retailers in Manila and Quezon Cities, as well as in Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Iligan and Lipa Cities.

Of the 85 samples bought and screened for heavy metals using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer, 38 products were found laden with lead and/or cadmium above levels of concern.  Some of the items found with high concentrations of these toxic chemicals include:

---  Painted metal hair clips and pins with 7,990 to 45,070 ppm lead
---  Painted stainless steel water bottles with 5,600 to 20,780 ppm lead
---  Vinyl-coated paper clips with 788 to 14,750 ppm lead
---  PVC plastic cable winders with 252 to 4,651 ppm lead
---  Plastic bookmarks with 783 to 2,772 ppm lead
---  Vinyl lunch bags with 347 to 2,244 ppm lead
---  Backpacks with 526 to 1,574 ppm lead
---  PVC plastic raincoats with 481 to 744 ppm cadmium
---  Plastic ID holders with 110 to 283 cadmium

Additionally, 31 of the 40 eraser samples sent by the EcoWaste Coalition and the Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS) to the Wonjin Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health (WIOEH) in South Korea for laboratory analysis were found to contain toxic phthalates, including DEHP, a probable human carcinogen.

Lead and cadmium belong to the World Health Organization’s list of “10 chemicals of major public health concern.”  These hazardous substances are also included in the country’s “Priority Chemical List” consisting of chemicals which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has established to “potentially pose unreasonable risk to public health, workplace and the environment.”

To prevent and reduce children’s exposure to hazardous chemicals in consumer products like school supplies, the EcoWaste Coalition urged parents to 1) demand complete product information, including information about a product’s chemical composition, 2) look for hazard warnings and safety precautions, 3) shun plastic school supplies with strong chemical smell or marked “PVC,” “vinyl,” “V” or with recycling symbol number “3”; and 4) steer clear of products with painted surfaces unless certified lead-safe.

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