Despite No Safe Level, 140 Countries Sign UN Mercury Treaty Ban Excluding Vaccines and Some Cosmetics
More than 140 nations have agreed on the first legally binding treaty to curb mercury without setting meaningful controls and reductions on specific cosmetics or vaccines because “no effective safe substitute alternatives are available.”
Earlier this year, delegates at UN talks in Geneva approved measures to control the use of the highly toxic metal, which is still widely used in chemical production and small-scale mining, in order to limit mercury emissions.
The fact that this topic is even being debated at an international level gives a clear direction on the completely misguided approach to reduce mercury to any effective level. A logical directive would involve banning this toxic substance from any contact with populations, not trying to minimize its emissions and especially not justifying the use in vaccines at ANY level.
Last week, about 140 countries signed the United Nations’ Minamata Convention, which includes a ban on mercury on some cosmetics and soaps. But mascara, and other eye makeup is exempt because “no effective safe substitute alternatives are available” and “the intention is not to cover cosmetics, soaps or creams with trace contaminants,” the treaty says.
No Ban on Thimerosal
On discussing the health effects of exposure to mercury in vaccines they concluded in earlier meerting:
"Thiomersal, which is used as a preservative in some vaccines and other medical products, contains ethylmercury. The half-life of ethylmercury is six days compared with 40-50 days for methylmercury. Ethylmercury is actively excreted into the intestinal tract and not accumulated in the body. It rapidly converts to inorganic mercury, which is less toxic to the brain than ethylmercury or methylmercury. In the light of the nature of ethylmercury and the amounts found in thiomersal, WHO concludes in its report (set out in annex I) that "there is no evidence that suggest a possible health hazard with the amounts of thiomersal currently used, in particular no developmental nor neurological defects have been related to the use of this compound."
With the conclusive evidence from several studies documenting the adverse effects of mercury, merthiolate and ethyl mercury on the immune system of children, and with the mounting research demonstrating the damaging effects of mercury to the fetus, there is little doubt that there is no safe level of Hg exposure.
Factually, Thimerosal is a mercury-containing compound that is a known human carcinogen, mutagen, teratogen and immune-system disruptor at levels below 1 part-per-million, and a compound to which some humans can have an anaphylactic shock reaction. It is also a recognized reproductive and fetal toxin with no established toxicologically safe level of exposure for humans.
Mercury is used in small amounts in cosmetics and vaccines as a preservative and a germ-killer. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration allows it in eye cosmetics at a concentration of up to 65 parts per million.
No Logical Reason For Allowing Mercury At Any Level In Cosmetics
“The purpose of the products is to inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi that could spoil the products and that could infect and damage the eye, so the risk-benefit analysis favours the use of these preservatives,” said Joanna Tempowski, a scientist for the World Health Organization’s International Programme on Chemical Safety, in an email.
But Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the advocacy group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, said there is no reason “a known neurotoxin should be allowed in any of these products” because most companies already have found alternatives.
In the United States, “companies just haven’t been using it. There’s absolutely no reason to not include it in the treaty,” Malkan said. “It’s just ridiculous.”
There is no reason "a known neurotoxin should be allowed in any of these products." --Stacy Malkan, Campaign for Safe CosmeticsMercury is a potent neurotoxicant. High levels can cause serious neurological effects and kidney damage, and, if a pregnant woman is exposed, lower concentrations can disrupt the brain of a developing fetus.
The scientific experts on the commitee claim that no conclusive specific evidence suggest that neurotoxins should continue to be allowed in these products. They refer to a lack of scientific studies which have specifically examined exposures or effects from the low concentrations found in mascaras or other eye makeup.
The focus of the treaty’s phase-out in cosmetics was on skin lightening creams that use much larger concentrations of mercury as an active ingredient. For those products, the toxic metal can be absorbed at high levels through the skin, and some studies have linked them to kidney damage in women.
Sheila Logan, a program officer with the United Nations’ Mercury and Other Metals team, said in an email response that when the treaty’s cosmetics ban goes into effect in 2020, there probably will be “few or no products” with mercury. So the world will have to wait another six years to see mercury removed from just some cosmetics.
Alternatives exist for some mascaras -- particularly those with shorter shelf lives -- but not for all, Logan said. When asked for examples of those products that currently do not have substitute preservatives, she did not respond.
The Personal Care Products Council, the trade group for the cosmetics industry, is not aware of any manufacturers using mercury in mascara, said Linda Loretz, the group’s chief toxicologist.
But according to a database compiled by the Environmental Working Group, six mascaras and two eyelash makeups manufactured by Bari Cosmetics, Ltd. under the Love My Eyes brand contain thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. The database is compiled from the ingredients listed on the boxes. The products were added to the database between July and September of this year.
Bari Cosmetics, Ltd. directed calls to the parent company, Revlon, which did not respond to requests for comment.
FDA Does Not Require Labeling Below The Threshold
The FDA does not require ingredients that comprise less than 1 percent of a cosmetic product to be divulged on the label, so a lot more products may have thimerosal and consumers would never know, said Kristin Adams, chief executive officer of Afterglow Cosmetics, a natural and organic cosmetic company.
Instead of mercury, some major brands use other toxins such as phenoxyethanol, methylisothiazolinone, parabens and formaldehyde releasers as preservatives, according to the group’s database.
Such substitutes are not be benign; formaldehyde is carcinogenic to humans, and parabens are linked to hormone disruption. But none of the substitutes is as toxic as mercury, said Sonya Lunder, an Environmental Working Group senior analyst.
Adams said many big cosmetics companies use preservatives such as mercury and parabens because they are good at what they do -- extend shelf life.
“They (large companies) are looking for a 5-year shelf life for their product because it’s all about cost of goods for them,” she said. “Cosmetics will go bad very fast.”
Adams wouldn’t divulge what Afterglow Cosmetics uses instead, but said they adhere to a France-based network that developed a non-toxic standard for cosmetics.
“We see alternatives, why not just include [eye makeup] in the ban?” Malkan said. “Women should not be putting something so toxic right by eyeballs.”
But it seems that kind of logic is reserved for anybody but those defining treaty bans.