They are the stuff that childhood memories are made of: brightly colored action figures in fighting poses, lifelike dolls in dresses, miniature cars and doll houses. So loved by young Filipino children, they’re part security blanket and part playtime companion, all reflective of their parents’ generous love for them. The children treasure these toys, with which they create whole new worlds of their own, where growing up is beyond thought and imagination.
Thus, it’s supposed to offer some consolation for most parents to know that in these times of soaring prices, in madly colorful shoppers’ playgrounds such as Divisoria, these toys can be found at the right low, low prices.
But better beware. The EcoWaste Coalition, which describes itself as “a public interest network of community, church, school, environmental and health groups pursuing sustainable solutions to waste, climate change and chemical issues facing the Philippines and the world,” visited the shopping areas of Divisoria and Baclaran, as well as a number of “ukay-ukay” establishments and Metro Manila shopping malls, to make a study on these toys. From these places, it gathered 200 toys which, together with International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), it subjected to a test, using a scanner, which is also used by American agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, to identify toxic content in objects.
What EcoWaste found was, to say the least, quite disturbing: 30 percent of the toys were positive “for at least one toxic metal above levels of concern,” with 60 of them containing one of a group of dangerous chemicals that are known to be poisonous: antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead or mercury.
Dr. Joseph DiGangi, the visiting science and policy adviser for IPEN, explained that “the findings raise valid safety concerns for toxic exposure among children and send a strong signal to the toy industry to shape up, phase out harmful chemicals in their products and shift to safer ingredients.”
The “EcoWaste toys” came in different shapes and from different sources, yet all of them were tainted at the source. Instead of giving our precious little ones hours of fun, we may be causing instead permanent damage to their brains and internal organs. Instead of giving them a full life, we may be cutting short their years and leading them to a slow and painful death.
EcoWaste’s Project Protect coordinator Thony Dizon has asked manufacturers to stop producing toys with poisonous chemicals. He also urged the public to read the safety product labels and purchase only those toys made of natural ingredients.
Even though 70 percent of the toys EcoWaste gathered were found to be safe, the remaining toxic 30 percent is still too big for comfort and made more dangerous because, for now, these toys are not easily identifiable, and there seems to be no agency directly responsible for keeping them off the market shelves. The Bureau of Food and Drugs’ authority covers only food products, not toys.
There must be an easy and clear way to tell apart the safe toys from the poisonous ones. EcoWaste’s suggestions are a good start, as all parents should indeed be careful about what they are buying for their children. Indeed, besides looking beyond the cheap prices, they should bear in mind that labels can be faked.
But government should take the first step in making sure that toxic toys never get into the hands of children. Being the country’s lead regulator of business and commerce, the Department of Trade and Industry would be the most logical arm of government to stop the sale of life-threatening toys in the Philippines. It should start by keeping these toys from the retail outlets and penalizing commercial establishments found to be offering such toys. The DTI could then trace the toys back to their manufacturers whose licenses it should revoke outright.
There’s no need for reiterating this strongly felt, innate, universal human impulse, but there can’t be no overemphasizing it either: The lives of our children are not to be played with.
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