The Global Fool

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Skin Lightening Cosmetics and Mercury Toxicity
Nov10

Skin Lightening Cosmetics and Mercury Toxicity

By Roberta Attanasio Skin lightening cosmetics are popular in many regions of the world — they’re used to lighten darker skin because of their ability to inhibit production of melanin, the substance that gives the skin its color. The active ingredients in some of these cosmetics often include toxic chemicals, as for example hydroquinone, fluorinated corticosteroid and inorganic mercury.   The World Health Organization (WHO) provides interesting facts about the global use of skin lightening cosmetics. In India, 61% of the dermatological market consists of skin lightening products. In Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Togo, 25%, 77%, 27%, 35% and 59% of women, respectively, are reported to use skin lightening products on a regular basis. In 2004, nearly 40% of women surveyed in China (Province of Taiwan and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region), Malaysia, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea reported using skin lighteners. Exposure to inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening cosmetics may result in serious and life threatening adverse effects. According to a British Medical Journal editorial, these cosmetics are used on a large body surface area for long periods of time and, in many instances, by people that live under hot and humid tropical conditions, which promote absorption through the skin. Therefore, inorganic mercury accumulates in a variety of organs and tissues. The WHO states: “The main adverse effect of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage. Mercury in skin lightening products may also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections. Other effects include anxiety, depression or psychosis and peripheral neuropathy.” In a Consumer Update (Mercury poisoning linked to skin products) by the U.S. Food and Drug administration (FDA), toxicologist Mike Bolger, Ph.D. says “People—particularly children—can get mercury in their bodies from breathing in mercury vapors if a member of the household uses a skin cream containing mercury. Infants and small children can ingest mercury if they touch their parents who have used these products, get cream on their hands and then put their hands and fingers into their mouth, which they are prone to do.” A report published in 2010 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) entitled “Mercury Exposure Among Household Users and Nonusers of Skin-Lightening Creams Produced in Mexico — California and Virginia, 2010” linked skin-lightening creams manufactured in Mexico to cases of mercury contamination affecting five households in California and Virginia. In total, fifteen out of twenty-two household members showed evidence of mercury poisoning, including six with no history of using the creams. Exposure likely occurred because of absorption of mercury through the skin and inhalation of mercury vapors generated by these creams....

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Sentinel Bottlenose Dolphins: Exposure to Toxic Chemicals
Oct22

Sentinel Bottlenose Dolphins: Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

By Roberta Attanasio Bottlenose dolphins – the playful, intelligent and sleek swimmers frequently seen in warm and shallow waters along coastlines – are important biological indicators or sentinels. As coastal dwellers, they are exposed to pollutants deriving from human activities and, as predators at the top of the food web, they can help evaluate the overall health status of their ecosystems. In 2011, two teams of researchers published results from their studies on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates) as indicators of persistent organic pollutants in coastal ecosystems. Persistent organic pollutants are toxic chemicals recognized as a global threat to human health and the environment. Because they can be transported by wind and water, most persistent organic pollutants generated in one location affect humans and wildlife far from where they are used and released. They persist for long periods of time in the environment and accumulate and transfer from one species to another through the food chain. One of the two teams of investigators studied dolphins from the Western North Atlantic Ocean and Northern Gulf of Mexico. Results from this study indicated widespread food web contamination. The other team studied dolphins from coastal Georgia, USA, and found that higher concentrations of persistent organic pollutants were present in dolphins closer to the contaminated site. In addition, male bottlenose dolphins had higher concentrations of persistent organic pollutants than any other marine mammal. Mercury is also a toxic chemical recognized as a global threat to human health and the environment. Mercury exists in various forms, and people are exposed to each of these forms in different ways. Dietary exposure is very common, and it occurs mostly by eating fish and shellfish containing methylmercury. How does methylmercury get into fish? Through a process called “bioaccumulation“. Microscopic organisms convert inorganic mercury into methylmercury, which is taken up by tiny aquatic plants and animals. Fish that eat these organisms build up methylmercury in their bodies and, as ever-bigger fish eat smaller ones, the methylmercury is concentrated further up the food chain. Concentrations of methylmercury in large fish can be over a million-fold higher than in the surrounding water. As mentioned above, bottlenose dolphins are top level marine predators and, therefore, potentially at risk of exposure to high concentrations of methylmercury. Now, results from a recent study carried out by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks show that free-ranging bottlenose dolphins from Sarasota Bay, Florida, USA, contain blood amounts of total mercury (methylmercury and its demethylation product) 10- to 100-fold higher than relatively conservative benchmarks established for potential adverse effects in humans. The study, entitled “Distribution of mercury and selenium in blood compartments of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from Sarasota Bay, Florida” and published...

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