THIS column is for the plantitos and plantitas out there.
As more Filipinos turn to growing plants for food, better household environment, improved mental health or for income augmentation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a chemical safety advocacy group urged budding plantitas and plantitos to pick and use non-toxic gardening tools.
“Not all gardening tools are created equal. While many tools are lead-safe, there are some metallic tools painted with attractive colors that are laden with lead, a poisonous chemical that is now banned in paints and similar surface coatings,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
Dizon explains that a chemical like lead that is linked to mental retardation, anemia, high blood pressure, reproductive disorders, heart and kidney diseases has no place in the ‘healthy normal’ that we aspire to shape amid the pandemic.
“Whether you are into gardening as a hobby, stress reliever, therapy or business, please make it a practice to use lead-safe tools for a healthier and safer garden.” he said.
To determine if common gardening tools are safe from lead, the EcoWaste Coalition purchased 36 products costing P20 to P225 each from various retail outlets in Caloocan, Makati, Manila and Quezon Cities. The test buys were conducted from September 28 to October 1.
The group then screened the gardening tools for lead content using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analytical device that can identify and measure lead present in a sample. Among the tools analyzed were a variety of garden cultivator, fork, hoe, rake, shovel, soil puncher, spade, trowel and weeder.
Out of 36 samples, lead in the range of 3,475 to 34,000 ppm was detected in six samples, which are way above the maximum limit of 90 ppm under the Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds.
An orange painted hand rake topped the lead-coated gardening tools with 34,000 ppm, followed by an orange painted cultivator with 31,500 ppm, an orange painted weeder with 27,200 ppm, a red painted trowel with 11,200 ppm, a red painted soil puncher with 10,200 ppm, and a yellow painted garden fork with 3,475 ppm of lead.
“We find this worrisome as the lead paint in these gardening tools will surely chip over time and cause the lead in paint to get released into the soil. Children may be exposed to lead if the contaminated soil gets into their hands and mouths, which can happen as they assist their plantitas and plantitos with simple garden chores,” said Dizon.
The manufacturers should be responsible enough to have their products analyzed and certified “lead-safe” before putting them in the market as ordinary consumers will have no means to test products for lead content, the EcoWaste Coalition said.
Lead has been listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) among the “ten chemicals of major public health concern” along with other nasty substances like arsenic, asbestos, cadmium, mercury and dioxins.
“At lower levels of exposure that cause no obvious symptoms and that previously were considered safe, lead is now known to produce a spectrum of injury that causes loss of cognition, shortening of attention span, alteration of behavior, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs,” the WHO said.
“Children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead, and even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and, in some cases, irreversible neurological damage,” the WHO warned.
Aside from cautioning gardening enthusiasts against purchasing lead-painted tools, the EcoWaste Coalition also pitched the idea of reusing discarded materials as gardening implements.
Toward frugal gardening, used plastic bottles and containers can be easily repurposed into a garden scoop or trowel by simply using a cutter, knife or a pair of scissors, the group suggested. So, there!
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