By Nelson Flores, Ll.B., MSCK
DESPITE the warnings about the life threatening potential of mercury laden cosmetics, at least six wholesale and retail outlets in Davao City still continue to market them to unsuspecting consumers.
This prompted the EcoWaste Coalition, an environment and public health watchdog, to alert Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte about the matter. The coalition told Duterte that these outlets continue to sell skin lightening products banned by the national government due to its mercury contents.
“We deplore the unabated sale of mercury-tainted skin whitening products by some cosmetic dealers in Davao City in brazen defiance of the nationwide ban on such highly injurious items,” said EcoWaste Coalition Chemical Safety campaigner Thony Dizon.
Dizon said these sellers ignore the health warnings and ban imposed on the said products by the national and local governments.
“Despite the health and environmental risks and notwithstanding the efforts of the Davao City Health Office in the past, mercury-laden skin whitening cosmetics are still widely available in the city,” he said with dismay.
“To our shock and disbelief, the banned products are openly displayed and sold in the stores we visited. Vendors of such cosmetics in Manila seem to be more discreet and will usually not flaunt banned products on store shelves to avoid attracting undue attention,” he added.
As the health and safety of skin whitening product users, who are predominantly women is in peril, Dizon said the group asked Duterte to swiftly act on the matter.
Moreover, Dizon said the coalition informed the lady mayor that its members managed to obtain 12 samples of mercury-containing skin whitening products from six stores in Davao City in test buys conducted by a visiting team from the Quezon City-based group last April 2 and 3.
Although banned by the Food and Drug Administration for containing mercury above the trace amount limit of one part per million (ppm), Dizon said his group faced no trouble buying Goree, Jiaoli, S’Zitang and Yu Dan Tang brands of skin whitening products, which are imported from Pakistan, mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, respectively.
Subsequent analysis by EcoWaste using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer found all 12 samples positive for outrageous concentrations of mercury exceeding the 1 ppm limit under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive, he added.
Yu Dan Tang Specific Eliminating Freckle Spot & Double Whitening Sun Block Cream with Ginseng & Green Cucumber was found to contain 43,700 ppm of mercury, Goree Beauty Cream with 17,800 ppm, Jiaoli 10 Days Eliminating Freckle Day & Night Set with 2,638 ppm, S’Zitang 10 Days Eliminating Freckle Day & Night Set with 2,537 ppm, Jiaoli 7 Days Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set with 2,482 ppm, S’Zitang 7 Days Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set with 2,277 ppm, and Jiaoli Miraculous Cream with 2,041 ppm.
Dizon explained that mercury is added to skin whitening cosmetics to inhibit the production of melanin pigment leading to a “fairer” skin tone. However, mercury can damage the nervous, immune and renal systems, and also cause skin discoloration, rashes, and scarring, as well as reduce dermal resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.
He also said that the discharge of mercury from skin lightening products into the wastewater can also pollute the environment and contaminate the food supply.
According to the World Health Organization, “the mercury then enters the environment, where it becomes methylated and enters the food-chain as the highly toxic methylmercury in fish,” warning that “pregnant women who consume fish containing methylmercury transfer the mercury to their fetuses, which can later result in neurodevelopmental deficits in the children.”
The environment watchdog reminded Duterte that the continued sale of mercury-laden cosmetics is a direct violation of Republic Act 9711 (Food and Drug Administration Act) and Republic Act 7394 (Consumer Act of the Philippines).
To put a stop to the illicit trade of dangerous cosmetics that threatens human health and the environment, the EcoWaste Coalition asked Duterte to:
1. Confiscate the illegal mercury-containing skin whitening cosmetics and safely dispose of them as hazardous waste in an environmentally sound manner.
2. Conduct sustained monitoring and law enforcement activities involving the city’s health, police and business inspectors, and in coordination with FDA Region XI.
3. Charge and penalize erring wholesale and retail outlets, including revoking the business permits of defiant establishments.
4. Raise public awareness about specific skin whitening products containing mercury and the risks associated with mercury exposure.
5. Promulgate a city ordinance banning the importation, distribution, sale and use of mercury-containing cosmetics.