• Thursday, Feb 27, 2020
  • Last Update : 10:26 pm

Skin lightening products contain alarming level of mercury

  • Published at 12:12 am September 13th, 2019
Fair & Lovely
Unilever’s Fair & Lovely holds significant market share in fairness creams for both men and women even as the market continues to boom Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Mercury poses potential risk to health and environment

Speakers at a workshop have urged the government to take immediate measures to stop the sale of skin lightning products now available in the market considering public health.

The information was revealed at an awareness and consultation workshop titled ‘’Harmful effects of Mercury Added Products on Health and Environment” jointly organized by the Department of Environment (DoE) and Environmental and Social Development Organization (ESDO) at the National Press Club, in the capital on Thursday.

Mercury contained in skin lightening cream has a potential risk to health and environment.

The workshop was chaired by Dr Shahriar Hossain, Secretary General at ESDO; Farida Yeasmin, General Secretary of National Press Club was present as the guest of honor, says a press release. 

Shahriar Hossain said, “Policy intervention to phase out the use of mercury in products is required before the problem gets irreversible. We need to raise mass awareness about the harmful impacts of mercury added products and encourage people to boycott their use considering the detrimental health impacts these products bring. ’’

Advisor and Head of ESDO technical Committee; Moklesur Rahman, former Additional IGP, Bangladesh Police and Dr. Rowshan Mumtaz, Director, CERM, BUET were the panel speakers of the discussion session. Professor Dr. Md. Abul Hashem, Former Professor, Department of Chemistry, Jahangirnagar University delivered the presentation. 

Speaking as the chief guest former Secretary and the Chairperson of ESDO Syed Magrub Murshed said, “Being a signatory nation of Minamata Convention, we are committed to prevent mercury poisoning and hence have to step towards banning mercury at its source.” He told the authority concerned to take preventive initiatives in banning the manufacture and use of mercury added products in Bangladesh. 

Secretary General at ESDO Farida Yeasmin appreciated the efforts of ESDO and DoE in mitigating the use of mercury added products.

Siddika Sultana, Executive Director of ESDO, said, “Skin-lightening creams containing mercury directly affect our skin and their long-term use increases the risk of kidney complications, digestive system, immune and nervous systems.”

Use of Mercury in products has already been banned in many countries of the world. But, Bangladesh lacks specific guidelines for restricting mercury use in products and also regarding the proper and safe disposal of mercury containing products. 

Stressing the need for ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, majority of the speakers said, the workshop may serve as an important initial step in phasing out the use of mercury added products in Bangladesh. 

Mercury is available in various products including – batteries, thermometers and barometers, electric switches and relays in equipment, CFL bulbs, dental amalgam (for dental filling) and even in cosmetics, jewelries and pharmaceuticals.

Inorganic mercury is added to skin lightening products in significant amounts that is hazardous to human health. Several studies of ESDO in 2017 and 2018 found that, majority of the skin lightening creams available in markets contain incredibly high concentration of mercury (ranging from 711 to 16353 ppm) while the recommended level is only 1 ppm. Presence of such dangerous levels of mercury in skin lightening creams may cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, a reduction in skin’s resistance to bacterial or fungal infections and eventually results in skin cancer in the long run, speakers at the workshop said.

Once released into the environment, mercury can be transformed into toxic chemicals such as methyl mercury. These substances travel through food chain and eventually get bio-accumulated. Methyl mercury is a neurotoxicant: it can damage the developing brain as it crosses the placental and blood-brain barriers easily. The threat to the unborn caused by mercury is, therefore, of particular concern. It can also trigger depression and suicidal tendencies, paralysis, kidney failure, Alzheimer's disease, speaking and vision impairment and allergies.

Nearly 100 stakeholders from different sectors including experts, activists, academicians, policy makers, media and general mass attended the workshop.