Concerned father uncovers health hazards
By Xu Wenwen | November 3, 2015, Tuesday
Wei Wenfeng introduces a safe, imported book cover to students at the Tianchang Primary School in Hangzhou.
WEI Wenfeng had been nervous for years about the plastic adhesive book covers his 9-year-old daughter uses for schoolbooks. He always thought they had a suspicious smell.
So a few months ago, he spent 9,500 yuan (US$1,554) to have seven different covers tested by a national chemical-testing agency. The results were worse than he expected.
The covers all contained phthalates, esters of phthalic acid used to make plastics more durable, in levels exceeding acceptable standards. High doses of the substance are believed to be factors in changing human hormone levels and causing birth defects. Two of the covers contained PAH, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, which is believed to be harmful to health.
“I regret that I didn’t have these covers tested earlier, when daughter began using them,” said Wei, 40, a former testing and certification engineer and now a Hangzhou businessman.
China doesn’t yet have standards on the use of phthalates and PAH for stationery-related products, so the testing agency Wei chose used EU criteria and also China’s product standards for toys. The tests showed phthalates levels from a dozen to a hundred times above acceptable standards.
“To touch such a book cover is okay, but if children handle it for hours and then eat with their hands, there are problems,” Wei said.
However, use of book covers is required by most elementary schools in Hangzhou. Self-adhesive plastic covers are the most popular, according to local stationery store owners, because they stick resolutely to books and cost less than a yuan each.
Wei was determined that others should know about the health risks of the covers. He founded a studio called Daddylab, hired people to make a documentary of the story and appealed for crowd-funding to support more tests of other child-related products.
His documentary received more than a million clicks. Daddylab has thus far spent more than 72,000 yuan on product testing. So far, Daddylab has raised 34,000 yuan and most of those investing in the project are parents like Wei.
Daddylab has tested pencils, erasers, vacuum cups and fountain pens, among other school tools.
In the test of pencils, results released several weeks ago showed various levels of PAH. Two of the pencils contained excessive amounts, two of them contained excessive phthalates, and two of them showed traces of heavy metals.
PAH was also detected in three of five erasers tested.
Crowd-funding for nonprofit purposes is a new trend in China. According to a report by Zhongchou.com, there were 299 such cases last year. Most of those crowd-funding appeals went out on crowd-funding websites, such as Taobao crowd-funding, JD finance, and Zhongchou.com.
However, a draft of the national Charity Law released last week stipulated that “only government-approved charitable organizations would be qualified to raise funds from public donations.” If the law is enacted, Daddylab’s public crowd-funding, along with many similar online appeals, will be considered illegal.
Some committee members of the National People’s Congress are calling for additions to the law to allow crowd-funding for nonprofit, charitable causes.
Wei said no matter what the outcome, he has no plans to halt his mission to explore possible harmful substances in products aimed at children.
He has opened an online store selling children’s products that meet EU and US health and safety standards. So far, all the products are imported, but Daddylab is looking for domestic sources that meet the standards.
The store had more than 5,000 of customers in its first month and has achieved sales of around 250,000 yuan.
“I run the charity platform the same way as I run a company,” Wei said. “That is the only sustainable way of doing it. What motivates me to do all that is love, not benefits.”
For those seeking more information, Wei also has a public account called Daddylab on WeChat.