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Philippine green group warns of lead in John Paul II statues

Says exposure to toxic metal can come from kissing, touching figurines reporter, Manila

April 24, 2014

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An environmental group has warned that some statues of Blessed Pope John Paul II that are being sold in Manila are laden with lead, a toxic metal that is harmful to health.

The EcoWaste Coalition said on Thursday it had detected lead in paint coatings on some statues being sold by religious craft stores and vendors in the central district of Quiapo in Manila.

Samples of John Paul II statues donning different liturgical vestments that cost from $4.50 to $14.50 were found to contain lead up to almost 10,000 parts per million (ppm), way above the regulatory limit of 90 ppm.

The late pope is set to be canonized during a special ceremony in Rome on Sunday.

Other religious images inspected by the group were also found to contain high lead levels.

“Given [Pope John Paul II]'s clear stance against chemical pollution, we find it only fitting that the statues and other mementos made in honor of the 'environmental pope' should be safe from health-damaging substances like lead," said Aileen Lucero, EcoWaste Coalition coordinator, in a letter sent to the bishops' conference.

"In fact, all religious statues, which many Catholic adults and kids customarily touch and kiss as an expression of faith and reverence, should be toxic-free," she added.

Lucero said lead exposure even in low amounts can be detrimental to young children, and can cause brain damage.

She warned that paint containing lead on statues will deteriorate, especially with frequent patting, wiping or kissing.

Lucero said environmental groups are also hoping that Church leaders will ensure that paints used in churches and other Church-run institutions will comply with the country's regulatory policy on lead.

In December, the Department of Environment issued a chemical control order for lead and lead compounds that established a threshold limit of 90 ppm for lead in paints, and sets a phase-out period which expires in 2016 for leaded decorative paints and 2019 for leaded industrial paints.

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