Some Santo Niño images decorated with lead paint – EcoWaste Coalition

The EcoWaste Coalition, a non-profit waste and pollution watch group,  today  bared that lead paint is still used in some Santo Niño statuettes despite a ban on lead-containing decorative paints in effect.

The group made this revelation after procuring and analyzing painted statuettes of the Holy Child for P50-P200 each from religious craft retailers outside the Quiapo and Tondo Churches in Manila.

The statuettes were screened for lead, a toxic chemical, using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device.

Lead in paint was detected in five of the 10 samples of Santo Niño statuettes in the range of 252 to 3,944 parts per million (ppm) in violation of the maximum allowable limit of 90 ppm.

The green paint on a five-inch green “Welcome Santo Niño” had 3,944 ppm lead.

Lead was not detected in the other five statuettes indicating the availability of paints without lead for decorative applications.

“We appeal to religious craft makers to ensure that only lead safe paints are used for religious statues and figurines in keeping with the law that seeks to protect human health and the environment against the toxic effects of lead,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.  “Religious devotion need not be associated with a chemical poison.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order 2013-24, also known as the Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds, bans lead in paint above 90 ppm and provides for a three-year phase-out from 2013 to 2016 of lead-containing architectural, household and decorative (AHD) paints.   

Religious craft makers should have no problem finding compliant paints as many paint manufacturers have already removed lead ingredients in their formulations, especially for the AHD paint category, the group insisted.

“As the Feast of the Santo Niño is celebrated today, we urge religious craft businesses to commit to producing and selling only lead-free items that are guaranteed safe for the faithful, especially the children, to kiss and touch,” he added.

The group warned “the customary practice of Filipino Catholics to touch or kiss revered icons or to wipe them with handkerchiefs or towels may cause their paint coatings to deteriorate and come off over time, creating lead chip or dust that children may ingest or inhale.”

The EcoWaste Coalition in 2014 notified  Catholic church leaders Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and Archbishop Socrates Villegas about the problem with lead painted religious items.  The group particularly cited a six-inch statuette of St. John Paul II with dangerous lead content amounting to 113,200 ppm as per laboratory analysis as a case in point.

While lead exposure is harmful to all, lead exposure harms children, especially those aged six years and under, at much lower amounts, causing damage to the brain that is generally untreatable by modern medicine and can have a lifelong impact, the group said.  

Health and toxicological experts have determined no acceptable level of lead exposure for children, making it crucial to get rid of all preventable sources of lead pollution, the group pointed out.  

The World Health Organization has identified lead as one of the “ten chemicals of major public health concern.”