Environmental watchdog group, BAN Toxics, has called for stricter monitoring and regulation of skin-lightening products in light of the Philippines’ recent ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury and its participation at the recently-concluded Conference of Parties held in March 2022.
The international treaty, which the country ratified in 2020, calls for the banning of skin lightening products with mercury contents above 1 part per million (ppm).
Despite government bans, skin lightening products containing mercury – a heavy metal and dangerous neurotoxin – were still being sold in stores in Baclaran Terminal Plaza. A recent test buy operation conducted by BAN Toxics last April 3 revealed the proliferation of the illegal skin products in the area.
The Food and Drug Administration already issued an advisory banning the sale of the mercury-added products found during the test buy operation.
“We call on the FDA and the national and local government to implement stricter measures to curb the sale of these dangerous products. We must protect Filipinos from the serious health risks from mercury exposure,” says Reynaldo San Juan, executive director of BAN Toxics.
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that has been designated as one of the World Health Organisation’s top chemicals of major public health concern. Regular use of mercury-laced skin products can cause damage to the skin, while long-term exposure to high levels of mercury can harm the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, leading to death in some cases. Dental amalgams, mercury-containing medical measuring devices, and artisanal and small-scale gold mining activities are the main causes of human exposure to mercury.
The Philippines ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury on July 8, 2020, and attended the Conference of Parties as a party to the convention last March 21-25, 2022 in Bali, Indonesia. Sale of products with mercury content is illegal and punishable by law, according to the Chemical Control Order for Mercury and Mercury Compounds – DENR Administrative Order 2019-20 (CCO-DAO 2019-20).
Between 2017 and 2022, Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG), an international coalition of public interest environmental and health non-governmental organisations, of which BAN Toxics is a part of, tested 271 skin lightening products from 17 sampling countries. Of the 271 products that were tested, 129 exceeded the maximum allowable limit for mercury of 1 ppm.
BAN Toxics has pushed the Philippine government to take action to curb mercury use in the country since 2007. The organisation contributed to ZMWG’s research and monitoring on the illegal sale of mercury-added skin lightening products in Philippine online marketplaces.
“While we welcome the Philippines’ ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, its strict implementation to prevent the sale and use of mercury is imperative for the protection of both human health and the environment,” San Juan added.