MANILA - Consumers who wear plastic shoes may be at risk for long-term health problems, according to a study by an international environmental group.
In its study titled "Chemicals Up Close", the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SNCC) found "disturbing concentrations" of harmful chemicals in a variety of plastic-based flip-flops, sandals, clogs, and other shoes.
The SNCC tested 27 shoes sent by partner groups from the Philippines, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Tanzania, Sweden, and Uganda; and found high levels of phthalates in 17 shoes.
Phthalates (pronounced "thalates") are chemicals used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic.
The chemicals are widely believed to cause health complications like infertility and testicular problems among men, endocrine disorders, birth problems, and even cancer.
"The problem really will be the chronic exposure of people to environmental pollutants. Wearing shoes [that contain harmful toxins] increases the chances of contamination, and even the factory workers who make [them] are affected," said Manny Calonzo, president of the Eco-Waste Coalition, a partner organization of the SNCC.
"The chemicals are released to the environment during usage and even after their useful lives. Sooner or later, people will dispense with the [shoes], creating additional environmental concerns," he told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak in a phone interview.
The Eco-Waste Coalition, founded in 2000, has over 85 member groups nationwide.
Toxic Pinoy slippers?
The Eco-Waste Coalition sent locally-retailed plastic shoe samples to the SNCC, including Adorable Dora sandals, Chaya slippers, Beachwalk slippers, and World Balance sandals.
The SNCC report said 3 out of 4 of the Philippine samples contained one or two phthalate types. ]
The locally-made Adorable Dora slipper for children contained 6.9% of diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), which is listed by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) as a substance "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" and which may affect the development of the male reproductive system.
Adorable Dora also listed 4.7% of diisodecyl phthalate (DiDP), which a European Commission study found to have no confirmed health risks.
The China-made flip-flop Chaya slippers were found to contain 8.6% DEHP.
World Balance men's slippers were found to contain 9.6% dibutyl phthalate (DBP), the highest amount registered among plastic shoe samples from various countries.
DBP may adversely affect human reproduction and development, according to the NTP.
Asked to cite safer and more environmentally-friendly slippers, Calonzo told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak that the group is not in a position to recommend shoes because of a lack of information on the chemical components of commercially-available shoes.
What can consumers do?
In a press statement, the Eco-Waste Coalition advised consumers to demand complete product information from the manufacturer and retailer about the product's chemical content, and avoid PVC products.
PVC plastics and phthalates are common in many materials including nail polish, perfumes, tools, adhesives, sealants, paint pigments, printer inks, baby milk bottles, pacifiers, and others. Toxic levels of heavy metals like lead and mercury have also been found in toys and cosmetics.
The group also urged consumers to refrain from patronizing products made with toxic substances by researching about it.
Meanwhile, the Coalition urges manufacturers and retailers to produce quality products without harmful chemical ingredients to ensure that they are safe for both consumers and factory workers.
They should also inform consumers about the chemicals used in shoe production, and which are present in finished shoes.
The group said manufacturers should also include hazard warnings on products that contain hazardous substances.
Calonzo said the objective of the SNCC study was to encourage lawmakers to impose tighter regulations on "unsafe" products.
Unlike the US and the European Union which have passed laws banning phthalate-rich children's toys, he said the Philippines currently lacks chemical safety laws and regulations.
Although, he said, some Philippine government agencies have taken measures against the spread of consumer products that may contain toxins.
In August 2009, the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong issued health advisories against the use of cosmetics Jiao Li and New Jiao Li that were found to contain heavy amounts of mercury.
Last July, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources moved to confiscate jewelry cleaners that were found to contain toxic levels of cyanide.
There is also a pending bill in Congress, now on its 2nd reading, that seeks to ban phthalates from children's toys. House Bill 5896 was filed by partylist Alliance for Rural Concerns Rep. Narciso Santiago III.
"Lawmakers are paying more attention on certain chemical issues. We have seen more house bills and Senate bills dealing with chemical issues. But of course, the government has to do more," Calonzo said.
The Eco-Waste Coalition, for its part, has already sent leather shoe samples to the SNCC last August for testing of heavy metals.
It also sent samples to India in December 2008 for a global study on lead intake. Report by abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak. Photo taken from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation website.