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Lead Makes Veneration Risky Business

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Tens of millions of Catholics in the Philippines are being warned against kissing, rubbing and other hands-on veneration of statues in the run-up to Easter, due to high amounts of lead paint found on the icons.

Religious Statues
EcoWaste Coalition

Objects of reverence for tens of millions of Filipino Catholics, small religious statues have been found by a watchdog group to contain excessive levels of lead-based paint.

As the predominantly Catholic country of 96 million marks Holy Week, the nonprofit EcoWaste Coalition is reporting levels of lead hundreds of times the legal limit on painted religious statues being sold across the country, particularly by street vendors.

No Wiping or Kissing

“We respect the practice of the Catholic faithful to kiss or touch religious icons to express their belief as well as to seek divine guidance and intercession,” Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect, said in an announcement by the group Sunday (April 13), as the Catholic Church's holiest week of the year opened with Palm Sunday.

“However, the frequent kissing or touching of revered statues or wiping them with handkerchiefs or towels may cause their paint coatings to be disturbed and to come off in time,” he said.
Devotional Crucifixion
Wikimedia Commons / Baptiste Marcel

The third-largest Catholic country in the world, the Philippines is well known for its Holy Week rituals, including devotional crucifixions like this one during Easter 2006.

In December, the country's Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a chemical control order (CCO) for lead and lead compounds that sets a threshold limit of 90 parts per million (ppm) for lead in paints. That limit has has been in effect in the United States since 1978.

The Philippines has also established a phaseout period by 2016 for leaded decorative paints and 2019 for leaded industrial paints.

33,300 ppm

The coalition bought six religious statues throughout the capital city of Manila and found excessive levels of lead in every one.

Testing with X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) found lead levels ranging from 1,146 ppm in a nine-inch statue to 33,300 ppm in an 11-inch statue.
 
The coalition called on manufacturers of religious icons in the country to substitute unleaded paints for leaded ones and to label the statuary about any lead used in the product.
 
Dizon also urged the Catholic Church "to employ its moral authority to persuade manufacturers to create and sell only lead-safe religious statues for public health and safety."
 
Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
Wikimedia Commons / Jasonianyap

The EcoWaste Coalition urged the Catholic Church to use its influence with manufacturers to rid religious icons of lead paint. Pictured is Manila's Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

“We further suggest that only lead-safe paints are used in church-run facilities, including the interiors and exteriors of churches, hospitals and schools, as an essential measure to prevent lead exposure,” he added.
 
Lead Poisoning
 
Noting lead poisoning data by the World Health Organization (WHO), Dizon also urged the Catholic Church to "employ its moral authority to persuade manufacturers to create and sell only lead-safe religious statues for public health and safety."
 
The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint is working for a phase-out of the manufacture and sale of lead-based paints worldwide. Lead is one of WHO's 10 chemicals of major public health concern.
 
Last month, in one of the largest studies of its kind, the Asian Regional Paint Report  found “extreme levels” of lead in many paints manufactured and sold for household use in seven Asian countries.

The EU-funded analysis examined 803 cans of paint representing 404 brands and found lead levels above 90 ppm in most of them. One in four cans had levels above 10,000 ppm, the report said.

 

   

Tagged categories: Architectural coatings; Color; Decorative coatings; Health and safety; Lead

Comment from Brittni Strouth, (4/16/2014, 8:40 AM)

The coalition asked them “to substitute unleaded paints for leaded ones”? Does this not make sense to anyone else?


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