A watchdog group exhorted the Department of Education (DepEd) to ensure that only lead-safe paints are used in decorating all school buildings nationwide as the yearly "Brigada Eskwela" nears.
Through a letter sent to Education Secretary Armin Luistro, the EcoWaste Coalition urged DepEd to issue a Department Order that will make it obligatory for schools to use only lead-safe paints.
"We seek Secretary Luistro's support to reduce, if not eliminate, major sources of lead pollution in children's environment such as lead-containing paint and dust. Lead is hazardous to health, it is particularly harmful to a child's developing brain and body," Aileen Lucero, coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
The group's vigorous drive towards lead-safe schools is in anticipation of the phase-out of lead-containing architectural, decorative and household paints by Jan. 1, 2017 as per Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order 2013-24.
"While the phaseout will only take effect in January next year, we find it extremely important that all schools take the deliberate decision now not to use lead-containing paints and ensure a lead-safe school environment for healthy and bright children," Lucero said.
"We hope that the directive will be released soon to serve as guidance for the schools and their community of donors and supporters for the Brigada Eskwela on May 30 to June 4," she added.
The requested Department Order will be in sync with DepEd's mission of promoting a child-friendly school environment where students can obtain quality basic education they deserve as well as with the 15-point "Human Rights Agenda for Chemical Safety" adopted by the Commission on Human Rights," the EcoWaste Coalition pointed out.
For the group, the Department Order should make it mandatory for schools to use only lead-safe coatings for painting and/or repainting school structures and fixtures (e.g., buildings, classrooms, offices, windows, doors and gates), amenities (e.g., libraries, laboratories, canteens, clinics, covered courts and playgrounds), furniture (e.g., chairs, tables and cabinets) and learning materials (e.g., blackboards and teaching aids, including school supplies and toys) used in all elementary and secondary educational institutions.
It should also apply to paints directly procured by the school as well as those sourced by other means such as through individual, group, corporate or local government donations," the group added.
The EcoWaste Coalition noted that Pacific Paint (Boysen) Philippines Inc. and Davies Paints Philippines Inc. have successfully transitioned to non-lead paint production while other companies are on their way to switching to non-lead additives for oil-based (enamel) paints in compliance with DENR AO 2013-14.
It added that water-based paints, which are extensively available in the market, do not contain lead additives.
Aside from directly protecting vulnerable children from being exposed to lead early in life, the proposed policy will also make the maintenance, repair and renovation of painted surfaces simpler and less hazardous and avoid the exorbitant costs associated with lead paint abatement and removal as well as reduce the hazardous content of construction debris, the EcoWaste Coalition explained.
Citing information from the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint (a joint initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization), the group pointed out that young children may inhale or ingest lead-containing paint chips, dust or soil as lead paint deteriorates over time.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated "there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered to be safe," stressing that "childhood lead poisoning can have life-long health impacts, including learning disabilities, anemia and disorders in coordination, visual, spatial and language skills."
Lead is one of the "10 chemicals of major public health concern," according to WHO.