Group warns against toxic campaign materials

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AS candidates for the May 2013 mid-term polls get ready to hit the campaign trail, the EcoWaste Coalition’s Task Force Chemical Safety sounded the alarm over the presence of hazardous substances in some popular campaign materials.

The EcoWaste Coalition, which earlier called for a “zero basura” election campaign, told  candidates and their groups to take precautions when choosing campaign materials as some of them may contain cadmium and lead, two of the 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals branded as “major public health concern” no less than by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Politicians should, as a matter of responsibility, ensure that their campaign paraphernalia are lawful, honest and, equally important, safe for public health and the environment,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“As consumers of election merchandise, candidates should insist on chemicals in product information from service providers and suppliers.  By insisting on their right to know, they create a strong demand for safer materials during the election season and beyond,” he said.

The EcoWaste Coalition specifically put the spotlight on tarpaulin posters and streamers, baller bands and mugs after detecting cadmium and lead in some of these popular campaign materials and giveaways with the help of a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer.

“Tarps, ballers, mugs and other stuff commonly used to lure voters need not exacerbate our nation’s waste and chemical woes,” Dizon said.

I.  TARPAULINS:  Two tarpaulin posters screened by the EcoWaste Coalition for toxic metals yielded positive for cadmium, a chemical that has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as “carcinogenic to humans.”   The tarps were made by signage makers in Barangay Central, Quezon City and in Divisoria, Manila for P150 and P300, respectively, at the request of the EcoWaste Coalition.   One tarp that says “play fair and green” had 78 parts per million (ppm) to 1,253 ppm of cadmium, while the other tarp that says “does it contain lead?  is it free of cadmium” had 71 to 1,177 ppm of cadmium.

The cadmium in tarps may be due to the use of cadmium in ink or paint pigments, or in making the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic of tarps. While cadmium is included in the Philippine Priority Chemical List (PCL), the government has no chemical control order (CCO) for cadmium, a substance that is banned in plastics and other specific uses in the European Union.  In the state of Minnesota, USA, a ban has been in place since 1998 for cadmium exceeding 100 ppm in any pigment, paint, dye or ink.

II.  BALLERS:  Out of the 15 rubber and PVC baller bands analyzed by the EcoWaste Coalition,  10 were found to contain lead, a potent neurotoxin that can cause permanent brain damage.  The ballers were purchased by the EcoWaste Coalition for P10-50 each from shops in Cubao, Quezon City and Divisoria, Manila.  A baller with a patriotic message that says “Pinoy ako sa isip, sa puso, sa salita, sa gawa” had the highest concentration of lead at 11,300 ppm.

The lead in ballers can be attributed to the use of lead as PVC plastic stabilizer or the use of lead as binder, drier or pigment in paints.  Lead, like cadmium, belongs to the PCL.  A draft  CCO for lead and lead compounds, introduced as early as 2007, has yet to be approved by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.  If approved, the CCO will ban the use of lead as PVC stabilizer and will impose a 90 ppm limit of lead in paint similar to the US standard.

III.  MUGS:  In 2012, the EcoWaste Coalition detected excessive levels of cadmium up to 9,296 ppm and lead up to 31,700 ppm in dozens of mugs that the group procured from various commercial hubs in Metro Manila. Lead, in particular, is used for decorating and glazing mugs and other ceramic or glass tableware.  The CCO for lead and lead compounds, if approved, will also prohibit the manufacturing of lead containing glazes on food and beverages’ containers, vessels and utensils.

For the EcoWaste Coalition, the careful selection of campaign materials to procure, display or distribute will be beneficial for the people and the environment as this will:

a. prevent “chemicals of major public health concern” from being introduced to the market and the environment

b. avoid potential human exposure to dangerous substances

c. cut trade in products containing harmful chemicals

d. push consumer demand for non-toxic products

e. reduce disposal of toxic-laden waste materials in cement kilns, incinerators, dumpsites and landfills

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