School supplies makers urged to keep toxic chemicals out of children’s reach; ‘Be socially responsible’

Published August 14, 2022, 5:14 PM

by Jel Santos

As the opening of classes for this school year begins, an environmental watchdog urged manufacturers to be “socially responsible” and keep toxic chemicals out of school supplies, sounding the alarm bell on how hazardous chemicals affect a child’s nervous system, growth, and development.

(Photo courtesy of EcoWaste)

Through a statement, EcoWaste Coalition National Coordinator Aileen Lucero asked companies to be responsible enough to shun the use of toxic chemicals or, at least, properly label their products so parents, guardians, and educators can be guided whether or not the items being sold in the market are putting their kids at risk.

“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 Lucero.

“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,” she further emphasized.

An expert also warned that exposure to harmful chemicals has a great impact on kids as their brains and organs are not fully developed yet.

“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,” Apostol continued.

The EcoWaste earlier conducted a market investigation and gathered 85 assorted types of school supplies and accessories from various retailers in Manila, Quezon City, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Iligan, and Lipa. Of the 85 samples bought and screened for heavy metals using an X-Ray Fluorescence 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; and plastic ID holders with 110 to 283 cadmium.

To note, 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 that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has established to “potentially pose an unreasonable risk to public health, workplace, and the environment.”

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

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