Toxic Lead in Medallions
The Jesus Nazareno medallion with colorful prayer candles on sale outside Quiapo Church in the foreground.

Quezon City. The EcoWaste Coalition, an advocacy group for a zero waste and toxics-free society, has detected excessive lead on religious medallions with an embossed face of Jesus Christ crowned with thorns in front and the words “Jesus Nazareno Quiapo Church” engraved at the back.

The group obtained the medallions for P20 each from the Minor Basilica and National Shrine of Jesus Nazareno, which initiated the sale to raise funds for the renovation of its adoration chapel and the baptistery. Initial screening performed by the group using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device found the medallions laden with over 100,000 parts per million (ppm). A confirmatory analysis conducted by a private laboratory detected 255,000 ppm of lead on the analyzed sample, way above the permissible limit of 100 ppm.

While it acted in good faith and for a good cause, Quiapo Church was not aware of the standard specifications, particularly in relation to the lead content limits for jewelry. In fact, during the dialogue the EcoWaste Coalition had with the Church representatives on May 18, 2024, it disclosed to them that the standards are not publicly accessible in the website of the Department of Trade and Industry (which the Quiapo Church searched) as a copy of the standards can only be had for a fee. To guide the general public, particularly silversmiths, these standards should be made readily available by DTI so that compliance will not be a problem and untoward incidents can be easily avoided, the Church representatives added.

In keeping with the group’s advocacy against heavy metals and other hazardous substances in consumer products to protect human health and the environment, the EcoWaste Coalition screened the five Jesus Nazareno medallions that it bought for chemicals of concern using a handheld XRF analyzer, a scientific device that is able to identify and quantify certain elements like lead in jewelry and other materials.

XRF screening
XRF screening detects extremely high lead content on the metallic pendant, which was confirmed by laboratory analysis.

As measured by the XRF analyzer, the five medallions screened positive for lead at levels exceeding 10% or over 100,000 parts per million (ppm). Under the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, as well as the applicable Philippine National Standard, the maximum limit for lead in children’s jewelry for all substrates shall not exceed 100 ppm.

Following the XRF screening, the group submitted a sample of the Jesus Nazareno medallion to the SGS, a global testing company, for confirmatory analysis. According to the test results, the 255,000 ppm of lead detected on the medallion “exceeds permissible limit.”

Laboratory analysis
Laboratory analysis has confirmed the presence of lead on the metallic pendant way above the permissible limit of 100 parts per million (ppm)

The EcoWaste Coalition has provided the office of rector and parish priest Rev. Fr. Rufino “Jun” Sescon, Jr. with a copy of the laboratory test report on March 13 and the sale of the Jesus Nazareno medallions was consequently halted, which the group commended.

While Quiapo Church no longer sells the said medallions, the group remains deeply concerned about the potential harm to human health of the medallions already sold, especially if it is accidentally swallowed by a child.

In the same dialogue, the EcoWaste Coalition raised specific recommendations to prevent and reduce the risk of lead poisoning resulting from the use of the leaded medallions, including recalling the medallions, advising those who prefer to keep the medallions to use them with caution, and ensuring the medallions are out of children’s reach. Making the necessary announcement after every Mass for a period of time will help in spreading the information among the devotees, the group suggested.

Lead poisoning may occur when a person licks or sucks on the medallion as the saliva and/or gastric acids can cause the lead to leach out of it and into the body. The risk of lead poisoning is further increased when the string of the medallion breaks and when the medallion is accidentally ingested by a child.

Lead is toxic to everyone, but most especially to young children because their bodies are still developing. Exposure to lead can damage the brain and the nervous system, delay mental and physical development, cause learning disabilities, result in lower IQ and, in worst cases, coma and death.

The group cited a tragic case of lead poisoning that killed a four-year old boy from Minneapolis, USA in 2006. The boy died from acute lead poisoning after swallowing a heart-shaped metallic pendant that fell off from a bracelet provided as a free gift with the purchase of Reebok shoes. Two years later, in 2008, Reebok was fined US$1 million by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission for giving away lead-containing charms with its children’s shoes that poisoned and killed the said boy.


References:

Childhood Lead Poisoning: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241500333

Reebok lead poisoning tragedy: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5512a4.htm

CPSC product recall: https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2006/reebok-recalls-bracelet-linked-to-childs-lead-poisoning-death

Philippine National Standards for Children’s and Adult Jewelry:
PNS ASTM F2923:2019 (children’s jewelry)
PNS ASTM F2999:2019 (adult jewelry)

EcoWaste Coalition
Let's make an eco-friendly, zero waste, and toxic-free Philippines a reality.
https://www.ecowastecoalition.org/