EcoWaste Coalition, a Philippines-based environmental and health watchdog organization, has reportedly discovered that despite a government ban prohibiting their sale, skin-whitening cosmetics containing high levels of mercury—a potent neurotoxin—are available in shops and drug stores in greater Manila.

A series of test buys of imported skin-whitening creams conducted by EcoWaste revealed that seven of 10 products purchased were among those banned by the Food and Drugs Administration in 2010-2013 for purportedly exceeding the allowable limit of 1 part per million for mercury in cosmetics. The group’s weeklong market surveillance in Makati, Manila and Quezon cities reportedly netted 30 units of mercury-loaded, skin-whitening products representing 22 brands, according to EcoWaste.

“By all accounts, the illicit trade of mercury-laced cosmetics has gone rampant and dangerously out of control despite government efforts,” said EcoWaste Acting National Coordinator Aileen Lucero. “National and local authorities undeniably need to flex their muscles, hold illegal importers, distributors and vendors criminally liable, and uphold the consumer right to product safety.” Citing World Health Organization information, Lucero warned that exposure to mercury in skin-whitening products can damage the kidneys and cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as reduce skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.

According to a recent EcoWaste statement, the discovery of the toxic skin-whitening products has prompted one Manila government official to file an ordinance banning the sale of mercury-laced cosmetics and imposing harsh penalties on those caught selling them.

“This unlawful trade of dangerous cosmetics loaded with mercury has been embarrassingly going on for years and has to be stopped once and for all. I’m sure Mayor Erap, Vice-Mayor Isko and my fellow councilors will throw their unequivocal support behind such urgent action to curb mercury exposure from cosmetics and protect public health,” said Councilor Numero Lim in a statement.

“The violation of the people’s right to health under the guise of fairer complexion and flawless beauty, affecting mostly poor to middle-class women consumers, is intolerable,” said Lucero as she appealed to the government to “remove the mercury-tainted skin care products at once.” See EcoWaste Coalition News Releases, June 16, 18 and 22, 2013.