Group warns against toxic Christmas lights

AS stores do brisk sale of holiday decors ahead of Christmas, an environmental watchdog uncovered the sale of imported Christmas lights that would be illegal to sell in Europe because of lead and cadmium contents surpassing the lawful limits.

The EcoWaste Coalition, a non-governmental advocacy group tracking harmful chemicals in products and wastes, made the disclosure after testing samples of holiday lights bought last November 22 from Divisoria retail outlets.

Out of the five samples costing P35 to 130 each, three topped the 1,000 parts per million (ppm) limit for lead and two went above the 100 ppm limit for cadmium under the European Union (EU) Directive on Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS).

RoHS restricts the use of four heavy metals (cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead and mercury) and two types of flame retardant chemicals (polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers), and requires relevant electrical and electronic products to pass RoHS compliance.

Citing information from the RoHS Guide, the EcoWaste Coalition said that “the restricted materials are hazardous to the environment and pollute landfills, and are dangerous in terms of occupational exposure during manufacturing and recycling.”

“Applicable products that are not compliant to RoHS would be illegal to sell in the EU,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“Since we do not have a RoHS compliance policy yet, it’s easy for electrical and electronic products with high concentrations of dangerous substances to get dumped in the domestic market,” he explained.

Using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) metal analyzer, the EcoWaste Coalition detected lead in the surface covering (outside insulation) of the electrical wires of the sampled Christmas lights.
A set of Christmas lights bought from D’Mark Enterprises along Juan Luna St.,  with no product label and no Import Commodity Clearance (ICC) holographic sticker, tested  with the highest level of lead at 6,992 ppm and cadmium at 225 ppm.

A “7 Star” Christmas lights obtained from Shop Number HUG 59 at the New Divisoria Mall had 2,781 ppm lead and 164 ppm cadmium.  This sample bears ICC Quality Mark # 57469794, 2011.

An unlabeled Christmas lights with no ICC purchased from Willtop Marketing in Juan Luna St. had 2,131 ppm lead.

While not exceeding the 1,000 ppm limit, a “Multi-Function” LED Christmas lights from Apricot Marketing located near the corner of Juan Luna and Meisic Sts.  had 598 ppm lead and carries ICC Quality Mark # 57397802, 2011.

Only one sample, an unlabeled Christmas lights with ICC Quality Mark # 57397800 was found compliant with RoHS restricted substances.  The sample was procured in the Apricot Marketing store.

Asked why consumers should be concerned with Christmas lights with electrical wires containing lead and/or cadmium, Dizon explained that:
1. Most products carry no clear and reasonable warning about their chemical ingredients.
2. Toxic substances in the surface covering of the wire may rub off when handling or stringing the lights and may be ingested.

3. Small children may play with the wires and put the wires, hands and other objects in their mouths, unknowingly ingesting the lead.
4.  Burning discarded Christmas lights to retrieve the metal wire, as some informal recyclers do, can release hazardous fumes.

To avoid exposing your family members to lead and cadmium in electrical wires, consumers are advised to:

1.  Look for the ICC Quality Mark and seek out products which are properly labeled and compliant with the RoHs Directive.
2.  Wear protective gloves when putting up Christmas lights.
3.  Wash hands thoroughly after touching cords to avoid ingesting lead that rubs on to hands.
4.  Refrain from eating or feeding kids while handling or stringing Christmas lights.
5.  Keep wires out of reach of young children to prevent them from touching or putting the wires in their mouths

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