EcoWaste warns against buying toxic art supplies

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An environmental watchdog reminded parents to carefully pick non-toxic materials for kids who will attend summer art classes and workshops to explore and cultivate their creative potentials and skills.

The EcoWaste Coalition issued the reminder after conducting a three-tier process to determine if watercolor sets sold locally are compliant with the regulatory policy on lead, a toxic chemical that can damage a child’s brain and development.

The use of lead in manufacturing school supplies is prohibited under a Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in December 2013.

First, the group bought 22 samples of water color sets from three legitimate school supply stores in Makati, Manila and Quezon Cities; second, it screened the samples for toxic metals using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device; and third, it sent some of the samples that screened positive for lead to a private laboratory for confirmatory analysis.


According to the XRF screening results, the five samples of a locally manufactured brand of watercolors were found to contain high concentrations of lead, particularly on the yellow cake or lump. Three of these five samples were sent to the laboratory for analysis. The other 17 samples had low or non-detectable levels of lead.

Subsequent laboratory analysis by SGS (a global testing company) via inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES/AAS) confirmed that the samples had total lead content of 5,900 parts per million (ppm), 17,000 ppm and 37,000 ppm on their respective yellow cake.

“The presence of such developmental toxicant on a basic art tool for kids raises a valid health and safety concern justifying immediate withdrawal of the lead-laden water color sets from the market,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“Lead enters a child’s body when it is inhaled or ingested. It can also be transferred from the mother across the placenta to the fetus. Permanent damage to health can happen when lead even at low levels is used by a child’s growing body to make brain connections, bones and muscles, instead of calcium and other vital nutrients, interfering with normal development,” he explained.

According to the World Health Organization, “Children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead: relatively low levels of exposure can reduce IQ scores, and cause learning disabilities, poor school performance, or violent behavior, and result in reduced lifetime earnings.”

On 7 April 2014, the EcoWaste Coalition formally wrote to the manufacturer of the lead-laden watercolors based in Malabon City, requesting it to voluntarily recall its lead-laden product, shift to non-lead raw materials and duly label reformulated products as “non-toxic” and/or “no lead added”. A follow-up letter was sent to the company on April 15.

As of this writing, the EcoWaste Coalition has yet to receive a formal reply from the company.

The group had already notified the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, Health and Trade and Industry of its findings.

The 17 water color sets screened by the EcoWaste Coalition and found to contain low or non-detectable lead levels based include: Acuarela 18 Colores, Artist Pallete, Kidz Water Colors, Li’l Hands Arts and Crafts Water Color, Water Colour and one product with no name that were bought from Merriam & Webster Bookstore (Carvajal St., Binondo, Manila); Best Buy Water Color, Dong-A Kids Water Color, HBW Water Color Cake, Hello Kitty Water Color, Water Color #50325, Water Color #96012H, Water Colour #8716H and Water Color #9308H and Water Colour bought from National Book Store (Cubao Superstore, Quezon City); and Golden Brilliant Water Colors bought from VMZ Store (Guadalupe Shopping Center, Makati City).

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