YEAR in and year out, the EcoWaste Coalition has been raising awareness about children's right to safe toys, especially during the yuletide season. This year, our group conducted a monthly monitoring of toys sold in the market during the "ber" months. Our goal was to determine progress in the implementation of Republic Act 10620, or the Toy and Game Safety Labeling Act of 2013.

From September to December, our staff and volunteers went store-hopping and procured a total of 260 toys from legitimate retail establishments in 13 cities. We managed to buy toy samples from retailers in Bacoor, Caloocan, Cebu, Dasmariñas, Davao, Makati, Malabon, Manila, Navotas, Pasay, Pasig, Taguig and Valenzuela Cities. We wanted to get more samples from other places, but the mobility restrictions due to Covid-19 prevented us from doing so.

Under the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA 10620, toys and games are required to provide the following labeling information: LTO number issued by the FDA; age grading; cautionary statements/warnings; instructional literature; manufacturer's marking; and item, model or stock keeping unit (SKU) number.

Based on the labeling analysis we conducted, not even one product from the 260 samples was fully compliant to the Labeling and Packaging Requirements under Rule 1, Title II of RA 10620's IRR. To our gross disappointment, we found that:

-- 60 samples were totally unlabeled;

-- 161 samples lacked the license to operate (LTO) number;

-- 97 samples provided no age labeling information;

-- 83 samples showed no cautionary statements such as "Warning: Not suitable for children under 3 years. Contains small parts" or its equivalent graphical symbol;

-- 220 samples provided zero or incomplete name and address of the toy manufacturer or distributor;

-- 229 samples had no item, model, stock keeping unit (SKU) number; and

-- 14 samples had their labeling information written in foreign characters.

The poor compliance to this important legislation is deeply regrettable as this measure was enacted to "ensure the protection of children against potential hazards to their health and safety by requiring special labeling of toys and games."

Young children can easily fall victim to the hidden hazards of improperly labeled and poor quality toys, such as the presence of banned or restricted chemical ingredients that are not easy to identify or notice. In fact, we found some toy samples laden with chemicals of concern.

Using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, we detected high concentrations of lead, a chemical that can seriously damage the brain, in some painted toys and plastic vinyl toys. The orange coated bar of a toy xylophone, for example, had 8,463 parts per million (ppm) of lead, while a soft plastic ball had 1,586 ppm of lead.

We also detected high levels of bromine in some plastic toys -- an indicator that recycled e-waste plastic containing toxic brominated flame retardant chemicals was used in the toy production. These chemicals, among other health effects, are known to cause hormonal irregularities and should not be present in consumer products, especially toys. A plastic guitar with a black recycled plastic component, for example, had 13,300 ppm of bromine.

To ensure that children will benefit from toys and games that are supposed to assist in their cognitive and physical development, the EcoWaste Coalition is proposing a review of compliance to RA 10620 and its IRR. We also believe that prevailing toy safety standards and regulations have to be upgraded in keeping with the times.

Considering the growing concern about the many toxic additives used in the production of plastic and plastic products such as children's toys, many of which are known endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), we find it important from the government and the industry to ensure a precautionary approach that will prevent such harmful substances from all stages of the plastic lifecycle.

According to a new report "Plastics, EDCs & Health" published by the Endocrine Society and the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), "meant to make plastics more pliable or durable, more fire-resistant or antimicrobial, more ultra violet (UV)-resistant or simply more colorful, many of these additives have been shown to disturb hormonal systems in humans and animals by leaching into liquids, food, and the environment."

"Many of the plastics we use every day at home and work are exposing us to a harmful cocktail of endocrine-disrupting chemicals," said the report's lead author, Jodi Flaws, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. "Definitive action is needed on a global level to protect human health and our environment from these threats."

Known EDCs that leach from plastics and threaten health include bisphenol A and related chemicals, flame retardants, phthalates, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), dioxins, UV-stabilizers, and toxic metals such as lead and cadmium, the report said.

For our children's health and safety, we need to fully enforce the toy and game safety labeling law and adopt additional measures that will ban EDCs and other substances of concern in consumer products, most especially children's toys and childcare articles.

Have a zero waste, toxic-free and Covid-safe holidays, dear readers!

(ThonyDizon is Chemical Safety Campaigner of the EcoWaste Coalition)