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Some charm bracelets sold in Quiapo, Binondo may give you cancer instead of luck

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Toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition discouraged luck seekers from buying charm bracelets adorned with metal components in Chinatown, as these reportedly contained extremely high concentrations of cadmium, a chemical that is linked to various types of cancer.

The group, which has been campaigning against toxic metals like cadmium, lead, mercury and other chemicals of concern, reiterated its warning amid an expected increase of demand for good luck charms in time for the celebration of the Chinese New Year of the Wood Dragon this Friday, Feb. 9.

As part of its periodic market monitoring, the group recently went to Binondo and Quiapo, Manila to get charm bracelets sold for P25 to P75 each.  The items were subsequently screened for toxic metals using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer.

Out of the 23 charm bracelets bought and analyzed, 17 were all found to contain cadmium in excess of 100,000 parts per million (ppm). Cadmium was detected on the dragon or Pi Yao (an auspicious and mythical creature) metal components of the beaded or red string bracelets.

In a press release sent Sunday, Feb. 2, EcoWaste said such products would have been banned in Europe, which restricts cadmium component in jewelry items to 0.01 percent or just 100 ppm by weight of the metal in beaded bracelets and/or other types of accessories.

Citing a Safety Gate report published by the European Union, the group said materials with high cadmium content are “harmful to human health because it accumulates in the body, can damage the kidneys and bones, and it may cause cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified cadmium, a heavy metal, as “carcinogenic to humans.” According to the US National Cancer Institute, it is primarily associated with cancers that may develop in the lung, prostate, kidney, pancreas, breast, and urinary bladder.

“Cadmium exposure is further associated with reproductive and developmental disorders, including premature birth, reduced birth weight, stillbirth, spontaneous abortion and birth defects, as well with behavioral and learning disabilities,” EcoWaste noted.

The group thus called for the removal of this toxic metal in market products. “The fact that cadmium was not detected on six of the 23 analyzed charm bracelets indicates that such products can be produced sans health-damaging chemicals,” it pointed out.

The World Health Organization (WHO) listed cadmium among the 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern. It also recommended, among other interventions, “the elimination of use of cadmium in products such as toys, jewelry and plastics.”

Cadmium is likewise included in the Philippine Priority Chemicals List.  However, cadmium in products such as jewelry is not covered by the Chemical Control Order (CCO) issued in 2021 by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB).

Nonetheless, “the use of products not containing cadmium is encouraged to prevent and minimize the release of cadmium to the environment,” the CCO stated.

To prevent and reduce human exposure to cadmium, EcoWaste backed the use of non-toxic substitutes to cadmium in jewelry making. It also advised consumers to insist on their right to chemicals in product information, and for manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers to recognize such right by labeling and disclosing the identity of chemicals in their products. 

“Transparency in the chemicals that make up a product, as well as the hazards they pose to health and the environment, should be made mandatory in line with the consumers’ right to know,” EcoWaste asserted.  

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