Proliferation of Chinese Cosmetic and Milk Products with High Mercury Content

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CHAPTER 1
THE PROBLEM AND ITS BACKGROUND

Introduction
PROLIFERATION OF CHINESE COSMETIC AND MILK PRODUCTS WITH HIGH MERCURY CONTENT – China has been forced to deal with tainted milk products and other contaminated food products in past years, particularly with the melamine milk scandal that killed six children and sickened 300,000 more people in 2008. Some of Yili’s products were found contaminated with melamine at the time, along with several other dairy companies.

Melamine-tainted food resurfaced in China in 2010, with high levels of the industrial chemical found in products from several companies.
Last December, dairy products by the China Mengniu Dairy Company, also based in Inner Mongolia, were found to have elevated levels of aflatoxin, a substance that is carcinogenic for humans.
A major dairy firm in China has recalled some of its baby formula products after an “unusual” level of mercury was found by the country’s product quality watchdog. Tests carried out showed that only products from Yili Group are contaminated. Among 715 infant formula product samples that have been examined so far only batches from Yili are detected with “an unusual level” of mercury, said China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) in a statement on Thursday.

A spokesperson from the local quality supervision bureau in Inner Mongolia said that two samples from Yili were found with mercury concentration of 0.034mg/kg and 0.045mg/kg. High levels of mercury can cause damages to brain and kidneys. The 2008 scandal has caused a heavy blow to China’s milk industry after a number of firms were found to be using the toxic chemical melamine. Parents in mainland China have turned to imported baby formula in hope of better reliability, resulting in scarce supply in Hong Kong.

Manila, Philippines – Toxics Watchdog Eco-waste Coalition alerted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on skin whitening products containing mercury that are being sold illegally in Manila and Makati. Thirteen tested products were found to contain excessive amounts of mercury. The products contained 550 parts per million to 60,800 of mercury. The ASEAN Cosmetics Directive’s allowable limit is only up to 1ppm. Samples were purchased by Eco-waste from the cosmetic stalls and Chinese drugstores around Binondo, Divisoria, Quiapo, and Sta. Cruz in Manila and Guadalupe in Makati. The products cost between P60 to P180. Eco-waste used X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometer to measure the mercury content of the samples.

Mercury was not listed as an ingredient in all samples and none of the skin whitening products had been previously listed in the 2010-2011 FDA listed of 50 banned skinned whitening products containing excessive amounts of mercury. Mercury is dangerous to humans in excessive amounts as this causes poisoning, mutations, and other health problems. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include irritability, shyness, and tremors, changes in vision or hearing, memory problems, depression, and numbness and tingling in hands, feet or around mouth. Mercury also damages the kidneys, and the nervous system and interferes with the brain development of unborn and young-children.

The group is urging cosmetic consumers to be wary of product labels and ingredients and not patronize those do not give adequate and understandable information. It said products with mercury should not throw with ordinary trash. An NGO recently warned the public about the proliferation of Chinese skin whitening products containing the hazardous chemical mercury. This is alarming since the products had been an issue years ago but the government still failed to curtail the distribution if the unapproved and hazardous skin products in the market.

According to Eco-Waste Coalition, 93% of the skin whitening products that they tested contains excessive amounts of mercury. It is a toxic chemical. This chemical can cause or damage nervous system and kidneys. It is...
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