Wanted: Lead-safe schools

CONSUMERLINE - Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star) - May 16, 2016 - 10:00am

While the new President is hell-bent on flushing out criminality and corruption, there’s another threat he probably should tackle with his iron fist: the prevalence of lead poisoning among children.

According to World Health Organization statistics, the prevalence of lead poisoning among children living in a rural area covers about one-third of the Philippines. Investigators have found children’s elevated blood lead levels to be “associated with proximity to lead acid battery recycling or repair activities, consumption of certain foods, and playground soil.”

WHO stresses the fact that “young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system.”

WHO further notes, “Lead affects children’s brain development, resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioural changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behaviour, and reduced educational attainment.”

Before the May 9 polls, the use of paints with no added lead, a brain-harming chemical, in schools got the thumbs-up from doctors, bishops, educators, trade unionists, environmentalists and “green-minded” candidates.

Over 100 groups and individuals from different backgrounds signed the “Solidarity Statement towards a Lead-Safe School Environment for Bright and Healthy Children.”

The EcoWaste Coalition recently wrote to Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Armin Luistro urging him to issue a directive that would make it mandatory for schools to use lead-safe paints to minimize, if not eliminate, sources of lead pollution in the school environment.

The statement said: “We join the EcoWaste Coalition, a non-profit environmental group, in calling on the DepEd to declare the entire educational system as a lead-free zone by adopting a lead-safe paint procurement policy and by carefully addressing lead paint hazards.”

It added, “Childhood lead exposure, mainly through the ingestion and inhalation of lead-containing paint, dust and soil — which are major sources of lead exposure among children — can and must be prevented to protect our children’s brains, their health and future.”

Aileen Lucero, EcoWaste Coalition coordinator, declares, “With broad support from a cross section of the society, we are certain that Sec. Luistro will swiftly take action before students and teachers return to class to ensure only lead-free paints are used to decorate schools.”

Lucero adds, “The adoption of a lead-safe school policy will have enduring health benefits for the students and also for the teachers and non-academic personnel.” She notes that lead exposure in adults can cause, among many lead-induced health effects, abnormal sperm, reduced sperm count, miscarriages and stillbirths.

Among the “green-minded” politicians who signed the statement, were presidential candidate Grace Poe and her running mate Chiz Escudero, as well as senatorial candidates Neri Colmenares, Risa Hontiveros, and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

The health professionals who strongly backed the push for lead-safe schools included Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo of the Philippine Medical Association- Committee on Environmental Health and Ecology, Dr. Milagros Bautista of the Philippine Pediatric Society, Dr. Eva Irene Yu-Maglonzo of the Philippine Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Victoria Bael of the Child Neurology Society Philippines, Dr. Lynn Crisanta Panganiban of the Philippine Society of Clinical and Occupational Toxicology, Dr. Luis Gatmaitan of the National Children’s Television Network, Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, former Secretary of the Department of Health, and  Dr. Suzette Lazo,  former director  of the Food and Drugs Administration.

Bishops from different denominations reinforced the move with their strong voices. These included Archbishops Socrates Villegas, Antonio Ledesma and Ramon  Arguelles and Bishops Pablo Virgilio David and Broderick Pabillo of the Roman Catholic Church, Bishop Frederick Luis Belmonte of the Anglican Church in the Philippines (Traditional), Obispo Maximo Ephraim Fajutagana of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Bishop Noel Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, and Bishop Arturo Asi of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

Also signing the statement were the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, Davao Association of Catholic Schools, Environmental Resource Management Center of De La Salle University-Dasmariñas, one of the “greenest” schools in Asia, and Miriam Environmental Studies Institute. They said, “While lead exposure is also harmful to adults, particularly to women of child-bearing age and workers, human foetuses and children are most susceptible to the health effects of lead exposure, which can be permanent and can have lifelong impact.”

On a bright note, lead-containing architectural, decorative and household paints will be phased out by January 1, 2017 as required by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order 2013-24. The phase-out of lead-containing industrial paints will take effect on January 1, 2020.

Let’s listen to some of these anti-lead leaders-advocates:

Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, Inc. (CEAP), Br. Jun. Erguiza, FSC, president: “CEAP is aware that lead is detrimental to the human body, particularly for young children whose brains and nervous systems are still in the formative stage.  Recognizing that lead exposure even in low doses poses hazards to children’s health and development, CEAP expresses its solidarity with the laudable advocacy of the EcoWaste Coalition to prevent the use of lead-containing paints in school facilities and amenities across the country. CEAP is one with the EcoWaste and other stakeholders in promoting a lead-safe school environment for all children. ”

Davao Association of Catholic Schools, Inc. (DACS), an association of 65 Catholic schools, colleges, and universities in the Davao Region; Fr. Joel E. Tabora, SJ, president: “As the Philippine  government has scheduled the phase-out of leaded architectural, household and decorative paints by January 1, 2017 and leaded industrial paints by January 1, 2020 as per DENR A.O. 2013-24 (aka Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds), DACS also enjoins all its member institutions to support this advocacy, scrutinize the content of paints and other materials purchased for school buildings and facilities and to help ensure the health safety of all young children who may be severely harmed by the effects of too much exposure to lead found in these products.”

Child Neurology Society, Philippines, Inc. (CNSP), Dr. Victoria G. Bael, president:  “I am very much pleased to learn of your advocacy against lead exposure especially among children. It is already well established that lead exposure can affect a child’s neurological health, specifically their behavior, sleep, and memory. Moreover, it also causes headaches, peripheral nerve disease, and developmental regression. The CNSP is a society that champions the neurological health of all Filipino children and we strongly support the banning of lead-containing products that children often use such as in toys, paints, and other art supplies. In behalf of all child neurologists in the country, I support your advocacy and further support future collaboration on projects that will provide a safer, lead-free environment for our children.”

Will Tatay Diggy take the lead in this “anti-lead in schools” campaign?

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