Group: Toxic cosmetic products still on sale in Manila

05/29/10 - Despite a standing ban, some cosmetic products suspected of containing mercury are still being sold in parts of Manila, an environmental group has said.

After a cosmetics scandal erupted in the US last week, a local group EcoWaste Coalition said its teams conducting test-buys stumbled on the outlawed products sold in at least 18 stores in the city.

“What came as a shocker during our store investigation was the easiness of buying mercury-tainted Jiao Li skin whiteners that the FDA banned in February this year," said Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT, in an entry on the group's blog site.

It noted the Food and Drug Administration had banned Jiao Li skin whitener products through FDA Advisory 2010-002 and FDA Circular 2010-004.

The group also asked the FDA to organize random market inspections and to apprehend and charge dealers of certain China-made skin whiteners that were previously banned by the agency for containing elevated amounts of mercury.

EcoWaste said that last Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reported that six of the 50 skin lightening products that it bought and sent to a certified laboratory for testing were found to contain high levels of mercury prohibited under US federal law.

The group said the report prompted its “AlerToxic Patrol" to comb 18 drug stores, beauty shops and grocery stores in Binondo, Quiapo and Paco to check if products mentioned in the Chicago Tribune report are sold locally.

"We were able to buy one of the brands from various outlets, but we have yet to establish if the items we got were the same samples Chicago Tribune sent to the lab for testing. We therefore request the FDA to duly test them and assure the public that only safe products are sold in the market," Lucero said.

The group asked the FDA to check the samples its members bought and for the agency to step up actions against mercury-tainted cosmetic products.

In a letter to FDA Director Nazarita Tacandong, the group sought further tests on skin whitening creams and lotions for mercury, a toxic metal.

Chicago Tribune report

EcoWaste said that last Tuesday, Chicago Tribune reported that six of the 50 skin lightening products that it bought and sent to a certified laboratory for testing were found to contain high levels of mercury prohibited under US federal law.

Responding to the Chicago Tribune probe, the US FDA said last Friday that it will investigate skin-whitening creams for dangerous amounts of mercury and will take enforcement action if necessary.

Brands found tainted with mercury include Ling Ji Su (manufactured in China), Luluajina (China), Top-Gel MCA Extra Pearl Cream (Taiwan), Shabright Clear and Bright Formula (India), Stillman’s Skin Bleach Cream (Pakistan) and Crème Diana (Lebanon).

Of these, five tested with more than 6,000 parts per million (ppm) of mercury, with Stillman’s Skin Bleach Cream registering the highest amount of mercury at 29,600 ppm. The Philippine FDA’s allowable limit is 1 ppm.

Zenna Chemical Industry Co. notified Chicago Tribune that the tainted Top Gel products could be counterfeit, claiming that the company’s own laboratory results indicated no mercury in their products.

Comprehensive testing

EcoWaste requested the FDA to conduct comprehensive testing of personal care products such as fragrance, makeup, lipstick, nail polish, deodorant, shampoo, and soap, among others.

It said the tests should check for chemical substances that poison the brain and are linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, developmental disorder, cancer and other health problems.

EcoWaste noted the FDA had earlier instructed food and drug regulation officers to seize the mercury-tainted cosmetics and even sought the help of all enforcement agencies to apprehend and lodge appropriate criminal action against those selling the banned items.

“For the health and safety our women consumers, we urge the Department of Health, particularly the FDA, to actively seek the elimination of mercury and other harmful chemicals such as lead, phthalates, dioxane, formaldehyde, hydroquinone and steroids in personal care products, and to conduct more effective consumer advisories to inform and educate our people about chemical hazards and safer alternatives," Lucero added.

According to the article “Mercury: A Priority for Action" published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), mercury use in cosmetic products can have adverse effects including skin rashes, and can reduce skin’s resistance to bacterial and mycotic skin disorders.

Direct and prolonged exposure through the skin during repeated applications can cause damage to the brain, nervous system and kidneys, the UNEP said. — LBG, GMANews.TV

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