After being exposed to mercury in her face cream, a Minnesota mom was partially blinded.
An official report found the unnamed patient had been using certain brands that had exceptionally high levels of the toxic metal – even though this was not disclosed on the labels.
When she started experiencing symptoms that affected her daily life, such as fatigue, leg pain, weakness, and insomnia, the Somalian woman contacted poisoning specialists.
The woman reported her symptoms, which included gradual loss in her peripheral vision, to a variety of doctors.
Unable to diagnose her, doctors referred the woman to a team of toxicologists headed up by Dr Erin Batdorff with the Minnesota Poison Control System. Dr Batdorff conducted a series of urine and blood tests that produced shocking results.
A test conducted at a home visit in 2022 revealed that the woman’s mercury level had soared to 46.6 micrograms/liter, over nine times the level considered normal (5 micrograms/liter).
The woman had clearly suffered from mercury poisoning. She Her family was also at risk.
Elevated levels of the heavy metal were also detected in her home, likely due to the amounts left in the family’s washing machine after the woman laundered her clothes. In the washing machine, levels as high as 300 mg/m3 were detected.
The public health authorities also detected abnormally high concentrations in the children’s rooms. The mercury levels found in the bodies of the children was also elevated.
The toxicologists from Dr Batdorff conducted two home visits to the woman and her family one year apart in order to determine if they had any mercury levels. The woman’s skin creams were also tested for mercury.
The woman showed researchers previous creams used during her first visit.
Two products had mercury content several thousand times higher that the allowed levels of 1 part in million (ppm), for cosmetics. Urine tests revealed high levels of mercury in her body – 23mcg/liter.
She found two new creams in her medicine cupboard the following year. However, they contained very high levels of mercury (11,000ppm and 18,000ppm, respectively).
The woman’s vision loss was a more extreme symptom of mercury poisoning than what Dr Batdorff typically sees, which includes tingling or numbness in a patient’s hands or feet.
Mercury poisoning can cause severe health problems, including kidney failure and damage to the central nervous systems. Infertility can also occur.
Although the report didn’t reveal which lightening creams the woman was using, she did reportedly purchase at least some of them overseas. These products can also be found at major retailers like Amazon.
There are many cleansers and creams that have different formulas. However, they all work the same: They penetrate the skin through hair follicles as well as sweat glands.
The majority of skin whitening products are found in Latina, Asian, Somalian and Somalian communities. These creams often avoid regulatory oversight. Many people don’t know that the creams contain mercury, and they are not disclosed on their labels.
Despite evidence that they contain high levels of mercury, skin lightening creams are still sold on major e-commerce platforms like Amazon and eBay.
WHAT IS MERCURYPOISONING?
Mercury builds up naturally in fish, shellfish, and other animals that eat seafood.
Fish at the top end of the food chain have higher levels, such as marlins, sharks, and swordfish.
Dental fillings are another option.
Exposed to too much mercury can damage the brain and heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system.
Unborn babies and young children can be affected if the metal is found in their bloodstream. This could cause them to lose their ability to think and learn.
Mercury posioning symptoms can include:
- Poor peripheral vision
- Needles and pins
- Coordination is lacking
- Bad speech, hearing, or balance
- Muscle weakness
Healthy people should have mercury levels below 10ng/mL
A single serving of halibut, lingcod or salmon shark can exceed that, according to the Alaskan Government.
Dr Erin Batdorff, who was the lead of the report Telled CNN reported that the woman was unaware she was putting herself in danger and her household members.
‘No one intentionally wants to hurt themselves or their family members. But it’s out in the open and you can see it but you can’t smell or taste it.
“There is no other way.” [for consumers] Find out whether [mercury] is in the creams or not because it’s not on the labels,’ Dr Batdorff said.
Dr Batdorff added: ‘She will not recover her vision… So being a young woman that now has vision loss is really frightening and pretty concerning.’
Memory problems, depression and irritability are some of the other symptoms of mercury poisoning.
Dr Batdorff said: ‘With inorganic mercury it’s that chronic long-term exposure that concerns me the most.
‘It’s more subtle but ends up building up in our system and is hard to eliminate, especially when it gets into the brain … and once mercury has crossed over into the brain and our nervous system, it can cause a lot of different side effects.’
None of the products mentioned mercury.
According to the report, the woman had a higher mercury concentration in her body during the year that followed.
Her children were also vulnerable to poisonous exposure.
Background mercury concentrations below 200 nanograms/cm3 (ng/m3) do not warrant concern.
The children’s rooms, however, recorded levels of up to 400 ng/m3, and their towels read up to 600 mg/m3, according to the case report.
According to Zero Mercury Working Group consumer watchdog, mercury has been repeatedly found in skin-lightening creams sold on major e-commerce platforms, such as Amazon and eBay.
These products are most common in Somalia, Latina, and Asian communities. One woman who was partially blinded was originally from Somalia.
Jessica Nelson, Program Director for the Minnesota Biomonitoring program within the state health department said: ‘We need to be sure women know that products can have mercury in them.
‘And we need to focus on women who speak languages other than English and different ways of sharing the information, ideally through community partners.’
Minnesota health officials stated that they would like to collaborate with local healthcare providers in order to strengthen their efforts to better educate people at greatest risk of mercury exposure.
The Food and Drug Administration does not have the proper regulatory authority to regulate cosmetics. It can pull products off shelves only after a complaint has been made. This agency has far greater regulatory authority over food and medication.
And many products are able to enter the US through illegal channels despite the agency’s import alert, which allows FDA agents to detain certain products at the border.
Amira Adawe, founder and executive director at the Minnesota-based Beautywell Project which advocates efforts to address skin lightening product harms among communities of colour, called on the FDA to increase enforcement.
Ms Adawe said: ‘The products are widely available in ethnic malls like Karmel and the state has not actively regulated these products… I visited [a few months ago] to check if the products we tested that contained mercury are still available…and saw all the mercury containing skin-lightening products displayed on the shelves.’