By Chito Chavez
An environmentalist is pushing for a city ordinance that will ban and penalize the manufacture, distribution, and sale of mercury-containing skin whitening products in Quezon City.
Introduced by First District Councilor Elizabeth Delarmente, the ordinance seeks to ensure strict compliance by business and commercial establishments, as well as street, tiangge, and online vendors, to the government regulation prohibiting mercury in cosmetics above one part per million (ppm).
The ordinance will apply to cosmetics such as creams, lotions and soaps that are designed to lighten or whiten the color of the skin.
“The ordinance, we hope, will be swiftly acted upon by our councilors to end the persistent trade of banned mercury-tainted cosmetics in Quezon City that pose serious health risks to consumers,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
The Quezon City based group has repeatedly called the attention of concerned authorities to the unlawful trade in Metro Manila.
In May 2018, the group discovered the illegal sale of skin lightening cosmetics in Cubao, Quezon City with mercury as much as 21,100 times the trace amount limit of one ppm.
“Such a measure will help in reducing mercury releases to air, water, and soil from mercury in products and wastes and should be unanimously supported,” noted Sonia Mendoza, chairman, Mother Earth Foundation.
Delarmente’s draft ordinance aims to: halt the illegal manufacture, importation, marketing, promotion, distribution, and sale of cosmetic products not compliant with the state and ASEAN policy on mercury in cosmetics; promote citizen awareness about the health and environmental hazards of consuming mercury-containing cosmetics; and, ensure the environmentally-sound management of banned, recalled and/or confiscated mercury-containing cosmetics.
If approved, the ordinance will not only ban the trade of cosmetics with mercury content in excess of one ppm, but will also ban the open dumping, open burning and/or disposal of banned, recalled and/or confiscated mercury-containing cosmetics along with regular municipal solid waste.
Proposed penalties include a fine of P2,000 for the first offense, a fine of P3,000 and suspension of business for the second offense, and a fine of P5,000 or imprisonment of 30 days, and cancellation of business license, or both, for the third offense.
In addition, all those convicted by the court will also be required to render 30 days of community service.
The ASEAN Cosmetic Directive prohibits mercury in cosmetic product formulations and sets a maximum limit of one ppm for mercury as a contaminant in cosmetics.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury has also scheduled the global phase-out by 2020 of cosmetics, including skin lightening creams and soaps, with mercury content above one ppm.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “adverse health effects brought about by highly toxic mercury in cosmetic products include kidney damage, skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring.
It added that chronic use reduces the skin’s normal resistance against bacterial and fungal infections.”
“Other effects include anxiety, depression or psychosis, and peripheral neuropathy,” the FDA said.
It also warned that “the transfer of mercury to fetuses of pregnant women may manifest as neuro-developmental deficits later in life.”