"Get the lead out for our children’s health"
More than one hundred kids and parents gathered at Rizal Park in Manila - the country's premier national park - on October 18 at the launch of the week-long global movement to protect children from lead, a toxic chemical that can permanently damage a child's brain even at low doses. The gathering was organized by the EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental network for zero waste, chemical safety and public health that works in the Philippines at the SWITCH-Asia Project "Lead Paint Elimination" being implemented in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Co- hosted by the National Parks Development Committee, the event commenced the Philippines' celebration of the 2nd International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action (October 19-25) organized by the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, a joint undertaking by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
The event saw parents and kids parade around the park, accompanied by youth drummers and campaigners brandishing a banner that said "Get the Lead Out for Our Children's Health." The group then assembled at the Children's Playground to learn about lead poisoning through pep talks and fun games, which highlighted the need to keep the children's environment safe from lead hazard.
"Our assembly today is in support of the growing local and global action to protect children's brains and enhance the health conditions of all children by preventing and reducing childhood exposure to toxic lead. Our government, the paint industry, the healthcare sector and civil society are working together to remove lead paint in the market and help create a conducive lead-safe environment for our children and our children's children," said Jeiel Guarino, Communications and Policy Officer for the SWITCH-Asia Lead Paint Elimination Project.
In a message sent to the EcoWaste Coalition, Secretary Enrique Ona from the Department of Health (DoH) stated that DoH "fully supports the global and local efforts to prevent and reduce maternal, fetal and childhood exposure to lead, a chemical that has no vital use in the human body, which can inflict irremediable harm to the developing brain and the central nervous system even at low level toxicity. We particularly support the ongoing phase-out of lead-based paints in the Philippine market as this will drastically reduce the risk from lead paint chips and dust, which are recognized as major sources of children's exposure to lead. Eliminating preventable sources of lead exposure in our homes, schools and communities, including toys and childcare articles, will have a huge impact in protecting our children's brains and their overall health and benefit the society as a whole".
"Lead exposure at an early age can cause harmful lifelong impacts on a child's developing brain and impair rapid growth and development, making it crucial for environmental lead hazards such as lead paint chips, dust and soil be reduced, if not carefully eliminated, to protect children from the adverse health effects of lead exposure," said Dr. Bessie Antonio, a pediatrician from the East Avenue Medical Center, who spoke at the event.
The World Health Organization's report on "Childhood Lead Poisoning" states that "these effects are untreatable and irreversible because the human brain has little capacity for repair, causing diminution in brain function and reduction in achievement that last throughout life."
The event also marked the release of a European Union-funded report about lead levels in dust obtained from 21 locations in five cities in Metro Manila, including residential homes, day-care centers and preparatory schools where children spend much time, and might be exposed to high levels of lead.
The lead dust report released by EcoWaste Coalition, entitled "Lead in Household Dust in the Philippines" provides examples of lead dust levels in sampled locations, and demonstrates why the use of lead-containing decorative paints is a source of serious concern, especially for children's health. For instance, the study found two preparatory schools with dust lead levels above the 40 μg/ft2 dust lead limit in floors in housing defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a dust-lead hazard, with one prep school registering as high as 110 μg/ft2 dust lead level.
"Children are not generally exposed to lead from new paint while the paint is still in the can or when the paint is being newly applied to a previously unpainted or uncoated surface. However, as paint on household surfaces chips, wears and deteriorates over time, lead present in the deteriorating paint is released and contaminates surrounding surfaces. In this way, lead in the paint will end up in the household dust and soil surrounding the house", the report said.
The report concluded with a set of recommendations addressed to various stakeholders.
In particular, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the government to:
- Ensure strict compliance and enforcement of the Chemical Control Order on Lead and Lead Compounds, issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which prohibits the use of lead in all types of paint beyond 90 ppm (dry weight).
- Establish strong enforcement measures, including periodic monitoring, to ensure paint companies are in compliance with the lead in paint limit and the specific phase-out periods for leaded decorative and industrial paints.
- Provide incentives to paint companies to swiftly transition from lead to non-lead paint production.
- Require paint can labels with sufficient information indicating the lead content and provide a warning of possible lead dust hazards when disturbing painted surfaces.
- Source only lead safe paints for interiors and exteriors of public buildings and amenities (e.g., parks and playgrounds), government-sponsored housing, schools, day-care centers, medical and sports facilities among others.
- Facilitate training on lead-safe working practices when applying paint to previously painted surfaces.
Given the high lead dust levels found in some preparatory schools, the report further recommended that the Department of Education, along with the DENR, the Department of Health and public interest stakeholders, to embark on an investigative study on lead paint hazards in the public educational system.
(Author: Jeiel Guarino)
(Editor: Silvia Sartori)