MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – A day after the Minnesota Department of Health warned residents that skin-lightening products contained dangerous levels of mercury, authorities in Hennepin County said the products are hazardous waste and should be brought to special collection sites.
The health department tested 27 samples — 23 creams and four soaps — and found 11 of them contained mercury. The products had mercury counts of 135 to 33,000 parts per million. Federal law allows for less than 1 part per million.
“It’s a very significant level,” Aggie Leitheiser, assistant commissioner with the department, told the Star Tribune.
The creams that contained the most mercury are called “Lemon Herbal Whiting Cream” at 33,000 ppm, “Lulanjina” at up to 12,800 ppm, “Qian Mei” and 4,650 ppm and “Fasco” at 4,600 ppm.
The products tested were purchased at retailers who serve African, Asian, Latino and Middle Eastern communities in the Twin Cities, although any population that uses the products could be affected. They were on display at a shop in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, home to a large Somali population.
Jeff Connell, with the MPCA, is trying to get the products off the shelves. He told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the agency has already seized 12 boxes containing creams from retailers.
Connell said the law bans the sale of cosmetics that contain mercury, but these are made overseas and brought by UPS or in suitcases.
Not all skin-lightening products contain mercury. People are advised to only use products that offer an ingredient list and don’t list mercury as an ingredient. Mercury can be listed as “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurous” and “mercurio.”
People who use the products are encouraged to call the Minnesota Poison Control System at 1-800-222-1222 with concerns.
Exposure to mercury in skin creams can affect kidneys and can raise other concerns in the long term, the health department said. No illnesses in Minnesota have been linked to the products.
Hennepin County operates two hazardous waste sites in Bloomington and Brooklyn Park. It will also hold a number of hazardous waste collection events in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park in May and June and another in Richfield on June 2.
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