Regvil Regalado de Jose’s backyard garden posted at FB page Backyard Gardening

The pandemic-enforced lockdowns encouraged a number of people to go into gardening, making spaces in their homes, big and small, into lush greeneries. The hobby seems to help people cope with the COVID situation by improving their mental health. But to others, it has become a source of income. Plant selling is a flourishing business right now and so is the selling of gardening tools that help you become a “plantito” or “plantita.”

Chemical safety advocacy group EcoWaste Coalition reminds budding “plantitos” and “plantitas” to buy and use non-toxic gardening tools.

“Not all gardening tools are created equal. While many tools are lead-safe, there are some metallic tools painted with attractive colors that are laden with lead, a poisonous chemical that is now banned in paints and similar surface coatings,” said Thony Dizon of EcoWaste Coalition.

Dizon said a chemical like lead is linked to mental retardation, anemia, high blood pressure, reproductive disorders, heart and kidney diseases. “It has no place in the ‘healthy normal’ that we aspire to shape amid the pandemic.”

For “plantitos” and “plantitas,” he advised them “to make it a practice to use lead-safe tools for a healthier and safer garden.”

On September 20 to October 1, the group purchased 36 gardening products costing P20 to P225 each from various retail outlets in Caloocan, Makati, Manila and Quezon cities to determine if common gardening tools are safe from lead.

Among the tools analyzed were a variety of garden cultivator, fork, hoe, rake, shovel, soil puncher, spade, trowel, and weeder. 

Out of 36 samples, lead in the range of 3,475 to 34,000 ppm was detected in six samples, which are way above the maximum limit of 90 ppm under the Chemical Control Order for Lead and Lead Compounds.

An orange painted hand rake topped the lead-coated gardening tools with 34,000 ppm, followed by an orange painted cultivator with 31,500 ppm, an orange painted weeder with 27,200 ppm, a red painted trowel with 11,200 ppm, a red painted soil puncher with 10,200 ppm, and a yellow painted garden fork with 3,475 ppm of lead.

“We find this worrisome as the lead paint in these gardening tools will surely chip over time and cause the lead in paint to get released into the soil. Children may be exposed to lead if the contaminated soil gets into their hands and mouths, which can happen as they assist their ‘plantitas’ and ‘plantitos’ with simple garden chores,” said Dizon.

The manufacturers should be responsible enough to have their products analyzed and certified “lead-safe” before putting them in the market as ordinary consumers will have no means to test products for lead content, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) lists lead as among the “10 chemicals of major public health concern” along with other nasty substances like arsenic, asbestos, cadmium, mercury, and dioxins.

“At lower levels of exposure that cause no obvious symptoms and that previously were considered safe, lead is now known to produce a spectrum of injury that causes loss of cognition, shortening of attention span, alteration of behavior, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity, and toxicity to the reproductive organs,” the WHO said. “Children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead, and even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and, in some cases, irreversible neurological damage,” it warned. 

Aside from cautioning gardening enthusiasts against purchasing lead-painted tools, the EcoWaste Coalition also recommended reuse of discarded materials as gardening implements.

For example, used plastic bottles and containers can be easily repurposed into a garden scoop or trowel by simply using a cutter, knife, or a pair of scissors.