IDIS and ECOWASTE expose illegal sale of mercury-laced cosmetics in Davao City

July 30th, 2013 by

Davao City/Quezon City. – Skin whitening cosmetics containing dangerous levels of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, are being sold in Davao City in brazen violation of the law.

The Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) and the EcoWaste Coalition, which are based in Davao and Quezon Cities, respectively, made the discovery after obtaining 7 skin lightening products with mercury up to 6,633 parts per million (ppm), way above the 1 ppm limit under the ASEAN Cosmetics Directive.

Ann Fuertes, IDIS Executive Director, deplored the sale of mercury-tainted cosmetics as “a direct affront to the right of consumers to non-hazardous products,” stressing that “stopping such illegal trade will help in reducing the amount of mercury that gets into our bodies and the environment.”

“We therefore urge the local government and police authorities to get to the bottom of this wicked trade of poison cosmetics in the city and bring violators to justice,” she said.

Fuertes added that the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) should actively disseminate its recall advisories to inform and guide cosmetics vendors and consumers, as well as help law enforcers in performing their duties.

For her part, Aileen Lucero, EcoWaste Coalition National Coordinator, prodded the public to be extra careful when buying cosmetics promising fairer skin complexion and reject unauthorized and insufficiently labeled ones, including those that do not truthfully disclose their chemical ingredients.

She pointed out that “brown is beautiful” and that the quickest way for consumers to avoid mercury exposure in cosmetics is for them “to be satisfied with their natural skin tone and not to use synthetic means to whiten the skin.”

The groups procured the 7 skin whitening cosmetics, costing P75 to P150 per product, from several shops located at Chinatown and other places in test buys conducted on July 28-29 in Davao City.

In addition, the groups also obtained a number of cheap skin whitening products sold for P20 each that have no market authorization from the FDA.

Using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer, a device that can measure the concentrations of heavy metals in consumer products and other media, the groups detected high levels of mercury in the following products:

1)  Erna Whitening Cream with 6,633 ppm
2)  Jiaoli Miraculous Cream with 5,508 ppm
3)  S’Zitang (golden yellow box) with 4,828 ppm
4)  Jiao Li 7-days Specific Eliminating Preckle AB Set with 4,071 ppm
5)  S’ Zitang 7-days Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set with 3,409 ppm,
6)  White Magnolia Powerful Spot Remover Repair Essence with 3,406  ppm,
7)  Jiao Li Speckle-Dispelling & Whitening Cream with 3,042 ppm

The FDA has yet to ban Erna and White Magnolia, while Jiaoli and S’Zitang are among the 93 skin whitening products banned by the agency for containing mercury above the allowable limit.

According to the FDA, “there have been cases of adverse health effects brought about by highly toxic mercury in cosmetic products, such as kidney damage, skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring. Chronic use reduces the skin’s normal resistance against bacterial and fungal infections.”

“The transfer of mercury to fetuses of pregnant women may manifest as neurodevelopment deficits later in life,” the FDA warned

The manufacture, importation, selling or offering for sale of cosmetics without FDA approval or found to contain harmful or toxic substances is in direct violation of Republic Act No. 9711 , the Food and Drug Administration Act, and  Republic Act No. 7394, the Consumer Act of the Philippines. (#)

Enlarging green spaces

July 22nd, 2013 by

IT TOOK a question from Sister Josephine Bacaltos of the Good Shepherd Sisters to voice out what many of the attendees have been wondering all morning: With all of the ordinances which sought to preserve the environment, how had flood-prone Davao City reached this point?

“I grew up here in 1946,” revealed Sister Jo, one of Davao’s stalwarts in gender advocacy. “And yet I cannot recognize it now; Davao is green but now it has become brown.”

A few among the motley group of development workers, civic action groups and non-government organizations in the audience chuckled. It was a question that perhaps defined the whole event, the Green Forum, which was organized to commemorate World Environment Month last June.

Green vs Brown Spaces

Earlier that morning, Executive Director Dam Vertido of the Mindanao Land Foundation, had treated the participants to a timeline presentation of Davao City’s urban spaces.

“This is Davao through the years,” he said as he presented old photos of the municipal park in front of the SP, the Acacia intersection, and the campuses of Holy Cross and Ateneo.

He pointed out that because of expanding population and urban transport, the city has been enlarging common spaces by cutting down trees and concretizing pavements resulting in the modern sprawl that is today’s Davao City.

Such development characterizes the battle between green and brown spaces, he said.

“Open spaces and easements have to be sacrificed in favor of the more pressing need to provide urban spaces for the city population,” Vertido said.

A similar situation exists in the uplands. In her own presentation, Interface Development Interventions Policy Specialist Chinkie Pelino pointed out that the absence of properly delineated and demarcated areas set aside for conservation and protection had allowed monocrop plantations to gain a foothold in identified water recharge areas.

“We need to manage our upland resources responsibly and sustainably because this will have an effect downstream. The health of our urban and coastal ecosystems is inextricably tied into the ecology of the uplands,” she said.

Dr. Ruth Gamboa, from the University of the Philippines in Mindanao, agreed. “More than half of the damage in the coral reefs comes from land based activities,” she said. “Therefore a ridge to reef approach in managing our resources must be implemented to address these problems.”

Green Solutions

Coming from the recent intensive lobbying which resulted in the passage of a more environment-friendly City Zoning Ordinance, forum participants were understandably eager to plan the next steps in their collective vision for a Green Davao.

The afternoon workshops yielded a lot of recommendations: the Upland Ecosystem Working Group recommended the streamlining of conflicting guidelines in the implementation of national laws and local ordinances protecting the environment, citing the implementation of buffer zones as an example; the Urban Ecosystem Working Group suggested the relocation of settlements located in danger zone areas and the establishment of greenbelts along river easements to help mitigate flooding, as well as the widespread adoption of rainwater harvesting among the populace; the Coastal Ecosystem Working Group, meanwhile, pushed for community based rehabilitation and management of mangroves and the strict enforcement of the Fisheries Code, putting emphasis on a vigilant Bantay Dagat to protect local fish stocks.

A common thread was highlighted among these recommendations – the need for more widespread Information and Education Campaign, interwoven with sustained lobbying at the City, so that these changes can take root and the dream of a Green Davao will bear fruit.

“Dabawenyos already know what they want now and in the future. Gusto nila yung meeting our resources without compromising the capability of the future generations to meet their own need. Maybe the next question is how to translate this awareness into something significant and with high impact activities,” Dr. Gamboa said.

Next Steps

For Vertido, as he sought to answer Sister Jo’s question, the fight does not end with the passage of the amended Zoning Ordinance. “Like many past ordinances, unless it is linked to the development plan of the city and complied with, it can only be fleeting. CLUP compliances have to be supported by civil society,” he said.

“We need to follow it through, and this is where (CSOs) can do better. Don’t stop at the passage of the ordinance, the best evidence is the availability of the budget and the use of the revenue,” Vertido added.

Councilor Leonardo R. Avila III, who was also at the forum, agreed. “CSOs play a great role because we can’t leave this to officials. People-legislators will always respond to the call for a specific brand of legislation so if CSOs come together to clamor for a sustainable Davao City, then it can happen,” he said. (SUNSTAR DAVAO)