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Leading kids away from lead poisoning

Did you know that this week (Oct. 20-26) has been declared by the United Nations as (the first ever) International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action?  Leading the way in the Philippines are the doctors and environmental advocates who have joined hands and combined their voices to call for urgent action to protect children from being exposed to lead, a toxic chemical that harms the brain and the nervous system.

The Philippine Pediatric Society and the EcoWaste Coalition call the authorities’ and the public’s attention to the life-threatening effects of lead exposure to a child’s developing brain and the need to make a child’s environment safe from this neurotoxin and other toxins. The two concerned groups support the European Union-funded Lead Paint Elimination Project in the country.

Philippine Pediatric Society president Dr. Melinda Atienza stresses, “Childhood lead exposure can have serious effects on a child’s developing brain and impair normal childhood growth and development.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies lead as one of the 10 chemicals of major public health concern. A WHO booklet on childhood lead poisoning warns that “at high levels of acute exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions, and even death.  Children who survive acute lead poisoning are typically left with grossly obvious mental retardation and behavioral disruption.”

 The report adds, “At lower levels of exposure that cause no obvious symptoms and that previously were considered safe, lead is now known to produce a spectrum of injury that causes loss of cognition, shortening of attention span, alteration of behavior, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity, and toxicity to the reproductive organs.”

And take double note: “For the most part, these effects are permanent. They are irreversible and untreatable by modern medicine.”

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EcoWaste Coalition zeroes in on the elimination of lead paint, a major source of childhood lead exposure, as vital in creating a lead-safe children’s environment and in reducing lead levels in children’s blood.

 “Phasing out lead paints, starting with paints applied in places where children gather, study and play, is indispensable to creating a healthy environment for our kids and lowering their intake of lead,” notes EcoWaste president Von Hernandez. “We successfully removed lead in gasoline way back in 2000, it’s high time we did the same for paint.”

Toddlers like to “taste” everything they can lay their little fingers on. This casual hand-to-mouth behavior of children results in the higher intake of harmful dust, which may contain lead from chipped enamel paints (that get mixed into the dust and soil) and other sources, Hernandez points out.

Lead your children away from other sources of lead exposure, such as lead-tainted toys and other children’s products, lead-glazed or lead-painted ceramics, informal recycling of e-waste and lead batteries, and lead released by the incineration of lead-containing waste.

The alarming presence of high concentrations of lead in children’s toys (much higher than the allowable limit) sold in the local stores, as well as in children’s jewellery, rain gear, slippers, mugs with cartoon designs, and some common school and office supplies, was unearthed in investigations conducted by EcoWaste Coalition from 2011 up to the present.

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Grave warning on toxic Halloween products

Soon, it’ll be fright night.  But before we get into the (ghoulish) spirit of the celebration (like buying some spooktacular costumes for the All Hallows’ Eve party because even ghouls just wanna have fun or going trick-or-treating with the kids), let’s listen to this grave warning vs. toxic Halloween products. Thony Dizon, coordinator of EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect, says, “Our investigation indicates that some Halloween items are laced with health-damaging toxic metals.  Instead of adding excitement and fun to the celebration, these products may in fact endanger children’s health.”

Why are children  more vulnerable to harm from these substances?

“Because they consume more food and water, and inhale more air per unit of body weight compared to adults,” explains pediatrician Dr. Bessie Antonio, vice president, Philippine Society of Clinical and Occupational Toxicology.

To find out how toxic these Halloween products were, they were carefully screened using the X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer. This is the third year EcoWaste is analyzing some Halloween products being sold with a fine-toothed comb using the XRF.

This time around, the group bought 90 products costing from P20 to P200 each from various retail outlets in Manila and Quezon City, including leading department stores and bargain shopping malls. Among the products analyzed for toxic metals were Halloween costumes, decors, masks, scary props, candy containers, and body and face paints. 

And here are the scary findings: Out of 90 samples, 20 (22%) were found to contain at least one toxic metal above regulatory limits.  Eighteen samples were found to contain lead beyond the allowable limit of 90 parts per million (ppm).

“While welcoming the significant drop in the number of tainted Halloween products this year compared to the sampling we did in 2011, we remain apprehensive over the continued sale of items with undisclosed toxic ingredients that can get on children’s hands or end up in their mouths,” Dizon asserts.

Found to contain the highest levels of lead were these 10 Halloween products: 

1)  A “horror spider” costing P65 with 3,987 ppm of lead.

2) A green pumpkin pail at P80 with 2,730 ppm of lead, 1,425 ppm of chromium, and 440 ppm of arsenic.

3)  Another “horror spider” at P65 with 2,040 ppm of lead.

4) A “spiders and web” set at P87 with 1,658 ppm of lead.

5)  A key chain with a Halloween witch on a broomstick design at P50, 1,291 ppm of lead, 820 ppm of chromium, and 172 ppm of arsenic.

6)  A Halloween rainbow wand at P129.75 with 1,119 ppm of lead.

7) An inflatable toy with scary ghost design at P36 with 439 ppm of lead, 616 ppm of chromium, and 65 ppm of arsenic.

8)  A sound bag with a red pumpkin and skull design at P180 with 379 ppm of lead.

9)  A pair of Halloween party eyeglasses with skull design at P50 with 241 ppm of lead.

10) A mask with falling eyeball design at P150 with 226 ppm of lead.

How to prevent your children from being exposed to these toxins in Halloween products? Here are some spooktacular tips from EcoWaste Coalition:

• Scrutinize product labels and shun products that fail to provide complete labeling information, including chemical ingredients and health risks if any.  This applies to all Halloween items, including body and face paints. 

• Encourage kids to create their own eco-friendly Halloween costumes without spending money by using safe, recycled materials.

• Remind children not to put Halloween products in their mouths and to wash their hands after playing with such products, especially before meals, to avoid chemical as well as bacterial ingestion.

Heed these grave, crypt-ic reminders and have a fun but safe Halloween!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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