Plastic is shoe bad for your health

CONSUMERLINE - Ching M. Alano () - September 22, 2009 - 12:00am

This is shoe disturbing: An investigation on toxins in flip-flops, sandals, clogs, and other plastic shoes in seven countries, including the Philippines, has unearthed scary concentrations of harmful chemicals that are injurious to human health and the environment.

The study by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC), a renowned 100-year-old environmental organization in Sweden, done in cooperation with the Philippines’ EcoWaste Coalition and partner groups in India, Indonesia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda, shows that the tested plastic shoe samples contained varying amounts of harmful chemicals regardless of the country of purchase, price, model or color.

Many different types of chemicals that can cause health and environmental problems go into the manufacture of plastic shoes, which are quite popular these days. These chemicals are dangerous to the workers who handle the chemicals or the shoes. Mikael Karlsson, president of the SSNC, reveals, “We have found frightening concentrations of environmental toxins in the shoes that can spread to people and to the environment as the shoes become worn (and are discarded). The investigation also shows that companies have no control and that legislation is too weak.”

The chemicals can also cause health problems for the people who wear the shoes. Unfortunately, the person who buys a pair of shoes seldom knows which chemicals these shoes contain or where they were made.

The report “Chemicals Up-Close” says that 17 of the 27 pairs of plastic shoes tested positive for phthalates, which are used as softening agents in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic.

According to a fact sheet on phthalates thoughtfully put together by the EcoWaste Coalition as part of its work on consumer information for chemical safety, phthalates such as BBP, DBP, DEHP, DiDP, DiNP, and DnOP have been identified as endocrine disruptors which are associated with developmental and reproductive disorders, including incomplete testicular growth, and decreased fertility in men. DEHP, in particular, is officially classified as the culprit that causes impaired fertility and harm to the unborn child.

The highest content, 23.2 percent, was found in a pair of flip-flops from South Africa.

The analyses conducted also show that several shoes contained PAH (polyaromatic hydrocarbons), tin organic compounds, and heavy metals.

The shoes were also tested for a number of tin organic compounds and for heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, manganese, nickel, and zinc. 

All the samples from the Philippines and elsewhere tested positive for varying concentrations of one or more of the 10 heavy metals analyzed, many of which are harmful to the endocrine, nervous, and reproductive systems; are carcinogenic and allergenic, and highly toxic to aquatic organisms. One shoe sample from the Philippines showed the highest level of copper content while another sample, likewise from the Philippines, tested high for nickel content.

Of the four samples tested from the Philippines, three were found to contain di-ethylhexyl phthalate or DEHP, with one sample containing DEHP and di-isodecyl phthalate or DiDP, and another containing DEHP and dibutyl phthalate or DBP.

 According to EcoWaste, one locally-manufactured slipper for children contained 6.9 percent of DEHP and 4.7 percent of DiDP, while a China-made flip-flop had 8.6-percent DEHP.  A men’s slipper registered the highest amount of DBP at 9.6 percent among the plastic shoe samples from seven countries.

 Manny Calonzo, president of the EcoWaste Coalition asserts, “There is no justification for the continued use of harmful chemicals such as phthalates in consumer products that could pose grave health and environmental risks. The toxins are spread as the products are used and can leach out when disposed in water bodies, dumpsites, and landfills. We hope that the results of the investigation would prompt our lawmakers and regulators to craft and enforce legislation that will tighten, if not completely end, the use of toxic chemicals that are dangerous to public health and the environment.”

 It is doubly alarming to note that the investigation shows that local and global regulations on harmful chemicals are “far too weak” and that urgent and concerted policies are required to safeguard consumers and the environment from toxic harm.

 The EcoWaste Coalition is behind the SSNC in proposing the development of legally-binding agreements that will result in the phaseout of hazardous chemicals in consumer products within the framework of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).

 To protect consumers and the environment from health and environmental toxins in consumer goods, EcoWaste recommends the following:

 For consumers:

• Assert the right to know: Demand complete product information from the manufacturer and retailer.

• Avoid PVC products and go for safer substitutes that do not contain phthalate plasticizers or softeners.

• Refrain from patronizing products made of toxic substances or if the manufacturer cannot provide essential data to make informed choices.

 For manufacturers and retailers:

• Apply the substitution principle: Produce quality products sans harmful chemical ingredients, especially when safer alternatives are available.

• Ensure that chemicals used in production do not adversely impact human health and the environment following the precautionary principle.

• Inform consumers about chemicals used in shoe production, and which of these are present in the finished shoes.

• Provide complete product information, including pictorial hazard warnings on products containing hazardous substances.

For politicians and the government:

•  Review the Priority Chemicals List of the Philippines and disclose measures undertaken to protect public health and the environment from these chemicals.

• Issue Chemical Control Orders (CCOs) on harmful substances of priority concern.

•  Reject market access to manufacturers that fail to provide data relevant to chemical contents of their products and their potential health and environmental impacts.

• Support legally-binding global initiatives for the phaseout of harmful chemicals such as mercury and lead.

• Increase budgetary resources for the effective enforcement of chemical safety regulations, including the national implementation of SAICM.

 To see the full list of analyses of the shoes that were investigated, log on to http://www.naturskyddsforeningen.se/In-english/chemicals/plastic-shoes.

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