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MANILA, Philippines - Health advocates from the government and the civil society trooped on Monday to Sta. Cruz, Manila in a bid to expose and arrest the unlawful sale of mercury-laden cosmetics in the district.
In a combined enforcement action for consumer health and safety, representatives of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Buklod Tao and the EcoWaste Coalition conducted an on-the-spot screening of skin whitening products for mercury and other toxic metals.
Also present was Manila District II Councilor Numero Lim, who earlier filed a resolution and an ordinance to halt the sale of cosmetics containing mercury in excess of the regulatory limit of one part per million (ppm).
“We laud the EcoWaste Coalition for their resolute action against health and environmental toxins in consumer products in support of the FDA’s mission,” said Dr. Suzette Lazo, FDA director.
“We appeal to all consumers to be wary of contraband cosmetics that could contain mercury and other chemical or bacterial contaminants. Please take precautions as these products pose real risks to health and should neither be offered for sale nor patronized and consumed,” she added.
EcoWaste Coalition’s AlerToxic Patrollers bought 12 samples of skin lightening creams, mostly imported from China and Taiwan, from Chinese drug stores along Bustos St. and nearby areas and had them analyzed at once, using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer.
Some of the items tested were among the 50 brands already banned by the FDA for containing high levels of mercury.
Aileen Lucero, Safe Cosmetics Campaigner of the EcoWaste Coalition, warned that applying mercury-laden cosmetics onto the skin can cause serious dermal problems such as discoloration, inflammation, itchiness and tiny bumps, while repeated use can eventually damage the brain and the kidneys.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to Lucero, has classified mercuric chloride, a mercury compound often used in skin bleaching products, as a “possible human carcinogen.”
“These poison products should be taken off the store shelves right away and discarded as hazardous waste requiring environmentally-sound handling, storage and disposal,” she said.
Councilor Lim urged the City Council to expedite the approval of the draft “Ordinance to Stop the Illegal Sale of Injurious Mercury-Containing Cosmetics in the City of Manila” he filed last March.
The ordinance prohibits the trade of mercury-tainted creams, lotions and soaps that are designed to lighten or whiten the color of the skin, and imposes harsh penalties to violators.
Consistent with Republic Act No. 9711 or the Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009, the ordinance will penalize individual violators with imprisonment from one to 10 years or a fine from P50,000 to P500,000, or both.
It imposes imprisonment of five to 10 years and fine of P500,000 to P5,000,000 on manufacturers, importers or distributors who violate the law.
It also bans the open dumping, open burning and/or disposal of banned, recalled and/or confiscated mercury-containing cosmetics in regular municipal solid waste.