EcoWaste Coalition Urges Governments of Philippines and Thailand to Stop Trade of Mercury
The EcoWaste Coalition, an advocacy group for a zero waste and toxics-free society, has raised the alarm against the sale in the Philippines of skincare cosmetics from Thailand that is contaminated with high concentrations of Mercury, up to 44,540 parts per million (ppm), way above the legal limit of 1 ppm. On 10 November 2022, the organization raised this important demand in Quezon City through a Press Release.
The group has been tracking the unlawful trade in mercury-added cosmetics since 2011. It aims to push for immediate action by health product and customs regulators to stop the illicit trade after detecting mercury in specific components of the eight Thai skincare sets sold by local online sellers.
Through X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) screening, they were found contaminated with mercury Lady Gold Seaweed Gluta/Super Gluta Brightening with 44,540 ppm (beige cream), five variants of Dr. Yanhee Facial Creams with 19,200 ppm (purple cream), 19,000 ppm (green cream), 11,830 ppm (pink cream), 9,460 ppm (purple cream) and 8,600 ppm (burnt orange cream); White Nano with 15,900 ppm (yellow cream), and Meyyong Seaweeds Super Whitening with 3,784 ppm (green cream).
“As member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and as parties to the
Minamata Convention on Mercury, we urge both countries to take urgent measures to stop manufacturing, importing or exporting mercury-contaminated cosmetics,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
“As both countries are obligated to comply with the requirements of the ACD and the Minamata Convention, we expect concerning health and customs authorities to ramp up actions that will protect human health and the ecosystems from mercury use in cosmetics,” she added.
Under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive (ACD), member states agreed to ban mercury and its compounds as part of the composition of cosmetic products and set a maximum limit of 1 ppm for mercury as a heavy metal contaminant in cosmetics.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury, which Thailand acceded to in 2017 and which the Philippines ratified in 2020, stipulated a phase-out deadline of 2020, after which the manufacture, import, or export of cosmetics with mercury content above 1 ppm shall not be allowed.
As mentioned in the 2021 national report submitted by the Philippine government to the Convention Secretariat, “the manufacture, importation, distribution, and selling of cosmetic products which contain mercury is prohibited.”
On the other hand, the Thai government, in its report, said it “conducted market surveillance of cosmetic products for skin whitening, to screen for banned mercury by revised Ministry of Public Health Notification on the determination of substances prohibited to use as ingredients in cosmetic production.”
Despite the unambiguous global, regional, and national prohibitions, cosmetics that claim to whiten the skin and remove age spots, blemishes, freckles, and wrinkles, continue to be produced and traded with impunity, the EcoWaste Coalition observed.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “adverse health effects of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening creams and soaps include kidney damage, skin rashes, skin discoloration, and scarring, reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression, psychosis, and peripheral neuropathy.”
“Mercury in soaps, creams, and other cosmetic products is eventually discharged into wastewater. The mercury then enters the environment, where it becomes methylated and can enter the food chain as highly toxic methylmercury in fish,”
said WHO, warning further, “pregnant women who consume fish containing Methylmercury can transfer the mercury to their fetuses, which can result in neurodevelopmental deficits in the children.”
To help prevent mercury contamination of the human body and the environment, the EcoWaste Coalition pressed parties to the Minamata Convention to strengthen the treaty implementation by tightening customs controls and intensifying market surveillance, including online shopping platforms, and charging violators of the ban on mercury-added cosmetics.
The group likewise reiterated its call on consumers to reject chemical skin whiteners such as those containing mercury and hydroquinone and to simply love their natural skin tone, emphasizing, “Whatever the color of your skin, it’s naturally beautiful.”