Toxic stationery, toys | Sunday Observer

Toxic stationery, toys

Low grade pens, inks , mobile phone accessories piling up exposing public to cancer, low IQ and abnormal development :

A few days ago, ( January 23) The Sri Lanka Customs took an unexpected forward step in the path towards eliminating sub quality toys and stationery imports into the country to mark International Customs Day 2018. It destroyed goods worth over Rs 130,000 including toys, stationery, phone accessories , pharmaceuticals and automobile parts . All of them were counterfeit pirated goods, part of a large haul of such goods said to be valued at over 32 million rupees, illegally imported violating the Intellectual Property Act and the Customs Ordinance . Forfeited in late 2017 by the Intellectual Property Rights Dedicated Office of the Sri Lanka Customs, the destruction took place at Urugodawatte with several high ranking customs officials overseeing operations.

The event, organised by the Consumer Protection Unit of the Sri Lanka Customs and Policy Planning and Research Division, carried an important and terrifying message to the public, especially, to parents, teachers and policy makers as highlighted by Customs spokesman Deputy Director General Sunil Jayaratne.

Addressing the media, he is reported as saying, the toys and the stationery destroyed contained carcinogen, and could seriously harm children’s health, and appealed to the public to refrain from purchasing low quality products that are now freely available in the market at half the price of their genuine counterparts.

Jayaratne’s plea should be taken seriously. Granted, nearly all of Sri Lanka’s four million school going population will from this year receive free text books and uniforms, but what the education authorities don’t seem to realise is that the stationery that also comes as a ‘must’ for children from Grade 1 upwards is not free. They need to be purchased from the hard earned money of parents .


For the affluent classes, the options are wide. If you have a fat wallet, you can afford to buy your child the most expensive and the best quality of any imported pens, pencils, erasers, colouring pens, crayons, gum, good quality drawing books, instrument boxes with in built safety precautions, water bottles that carry guarantee of being lead free. But for the middle income or low income parents, the choice is much more limited. More so for the latter.

“ I can only afford to spend Rs 1,000 which my husband, a casual labourer saved up .

So I have no choice other than buying my child’s crayons, pencils, and other stationery he needs, from these vendors who sell them in bulk and are much cheaper than in the shops”, Shanthimala 32, told the Sunday Observer. A garbage collector, she quit her job in a private firm to look after her fifth child still only two months, but is determined to get back to work when she is able to admit the child to a crèche .

I meet her at the Pettah where she has already filled her much used cloth bag with some cheap pens, pencils, and crayons.

They were obviously pirated stuff brought in illegally by vendors who were only driven by profits and had “no qualms about the injurious health impacts of their products on the users.

I ask her if she could let me inspect them . As expected, none carried labels, dates of expiry or the manufacturers’ address. Most importantly, none revealed the ingredients that went into the products. I ask her if she knows that these crayons, pencils and pens, could contain heavy metals which could lead to cancer and growth development in her children and she shakes her head and says ‘No. What is that?” Obviously, she has never heard of the toxic elements that go into sub quality stationery and being barely literate, and too busy with her growing brood, hasn’t the time to read up or even discuss this with her friends.

The same applies to children’s toys. The poorer you are, the less chances you have to buy your child what experts say are ‘safe toys’.

No regulations

This is because there are no regulations with regard to toys in this country”, former National Poisons and Information Unit head , Dr Waruna Gunathilleka charged . “ It is a huge gap that needs to be filled as soon as possible as our future citizens’ health is at stake”, he told the Sunday Observer.

“Children’s toys don’t fall into any category unlike say, cosmetics or any other consumer product. Hence, unscrupulous vendors are having a field day selling their illegal products, since there are no guidelines and no one to check on their quality,” he said.

In European countries, he said, there were guidelines with regard to toys according to the specific age of the user, with parents of children under five being warned not to buy a particular toy since it contained ‘small parts that could accidentally be swallowed by a child’ or certain toys that could suffocate a child or else had sharp edges. “You find them in a limited way in big supermarkets or toy shops but how many parents can afford them?” he asked.

The frightening fact is that toxic toys are on a relentless rise. Whether wooden or plastic with no regulations to curb this torrent, our children are being exposed to dangerous chemicals that can cause them immense harm in the future.


A study by the Centre of Environmental Justice ( CEJ) conducted in 2017 is worth quoting at this point. It found that recycling plastics containing toxic flame retardant chemicals found in electronic waste results in contamination of the world’s best known toy, the Rubic cube , a puzzle toy designed to exercise the mind. In Sri Lanka, the CEJ purchased five Rubik cube like toys and sent them for analysis to the Czech Republic for lab tests . It was found that the samples had Octa BDE and Decca BDE in elevated concentration.

The researchers said, these chemicals were persistent and known to harm the reproductive system and disrupt hormones systems adversely impacting attention and learning memory.

“Toxic chemicals in electronic waste should not be present in children’s toys , This is a problem that needs to be addressed publicly and globally”, Executive Director CEJ Hemantha Withanage was reported to have said. Dr Gunathilleke agrees.

Danger lurks inside

“No one knows what is inside these toys. So the real danger is inside them. The same goes for low grade mobile phones . These contain heavy metals in their batteries such as lithium, cadmium and cobolt which causes kidney diseases, brain and blood cancers .If thrown into our garbage piles, they can pollute the environment and the people. We need standards and regulations to monitor them”, he reiterated. CEJ has also said, if there were complaints they could take action. “Unfortunately, no one has yet complained. Probably because they don’t know about the toxicity of these products”, Dr Gunathilleke said.

Over to our readers !