Have you ever wondered if your favorite coffee cup, you know the one you drink out of every day, has any lead in it? Are you curious if the toys your children are playing with have any potentially harmful heavy metals like lead or cadmium? What about the facial or topical creams you apply to your body? Do you ever stop and think what is in your environment and how your environment may affect your health or life?
Three years ago I started a business, Environmental Services & Solutions Corporation (otherwise known as Essco Safety Check) to provide X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) testing services to moms and dads, to help them know what was in their environment. XRF analyzers use X-Rays to non-destructively detect heavy metals in virtually anything. Our handheld XRF analyzers, from Olympus Innov-X, are essentially a hand-held mass spectrometer capable of detecting elements from 15 to 94 on the periodic chart.
Since 2007, when Essco Safety Check started, we have added testing services that help businesses, industries and government, as well as, developing a sophisticated software platform to collect and analyze environmental data in a cloud-based system. We have been specifically involved with consumer product testing helping businesses affected by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) and contractors, painters, remodelers, home inspector and homeowners affected by the Renovation, Repair & Painting (RRP) Rule, among many other types of XRF testing.
Essco Safety Check has been involved with several national recalls for lead and cadmium and has had many discussions with the CPSC, FDA, EPA, state and local agencies about different environmental issues. Our testing has found lead and cadmium in toys, ceramics, jewelry, painted surfaces, metal objects, cookware, medical products and more. We have provided testimony at state hearings, have worked with advocacy groups, provided community testing events and have been on hundreds of job sites. With all of this experience using XRF analyzers, you would have thought I would have learned never to be surprised what you may find. Yet, you may be wrong…I may not always be surprised what I find, I may be disgusted.
Recently, Essco Safety Check was contacted to help provide XRF testing of facial creams from Southeast Asia to look for mercury. My initial concern with this project was that we would not find mercury because levels of mercury would be below our detection capabilities. The XRF analyzers that we use have detection limitations in the parts per million (PPM) and I suspected that the levels of mercury in the facial creams would be in the parts per billion (PPB). I was informed that the levels of mercury in some of the suspected facial creams with mercury were greater than one percent.
1 % = 10,000 (PPM)
After several discussions with the parties involved, samples of six different facial creams (skin whitening creams) were sent to Essco Safety Check’s office. Testing proceeded and you know what?
I was disgusted.
In three of the samples that were tested, levels of mercury were detectible, greater than 600 PPM. Two of the samples were found to contain more than 8,000 PPM and one sample was found to contain over 15,000 PPM or 1.5% mercury. This is a product that is applied to the face and it has high levels of mercury.
Mercury is banned in skin-bleaching or lightening products, such a product would have words listed on the packaging as “lightening” or “whitening”, if these words are not listed, it is considered a cosmetic. Eye area cosmetics are permitted to have concentrations of mercury not exceeding 65 PPM if it is used as a preservative, and only if no other preservative is available for use. All other cosmetics are only permitted trace amounts of mercury, less than 1 PPM.
Essco Safety Check was initially contacted to help determine if certain facial creams had levels of mercury, because people who were using these creams appear to be suffering from mercury poisoning. Some symptoms of mercury poisoning are; metallic taste, vomiting, difficulty breathing, bad cough, swollen or bleeding gums and if enough mercury is ingested in your blood stream, kidney and brain damage may occur. Often with modest exposure, there is no oblivious effect. However, in one extreme recent case in Cambodia a young lady died apparently from a hypersensitive response to mercury in a skin whitener, identified as Bao Dam from Vietnam . The creams Essco Safety Check evaluated were apparently from Vietnam, Thailand and China but they may have been bootlegged and produced anywhere. Mercury is readily absorbed through the skin in a topical application and mercury can accumulate in the body.
In May of this year, the Chicago Tribune did an investigation of 50 skin-lightening creams by purchasing these facial creams in Chicago stores. Five of the creams were found to contain amounts mercury greater than 6,000 PPM. They are:
Crème Diana C.T.R. – manufactured in Lebanon – 6,900 PPM
Ling Ji Su containers – manufactured in China – 6,530 PPM (white cream); 6,090 PPM (yellow cream)
Lulanjina – manufactured in China – 14,700 PPM (yellow cream); 14,100 PPM (white cream)
Stillman’s Skin Bleach Cream – manufactured in Pakistan – 29,600 PPM
Top-Gel MCA Extra Pearl Cream – manufactured in Taiwan – 7,030 PPM
The FDA did respond to this investigation.
This is just another example of why you would want to know what is in your environment. XRF testing helps people and businesses know what is in their environment. We have the potential to help governments with limited regulations learn about product safety and help create regulations that will protect citizens, workers and the environment, while saving time and money. XRF testing can create jobs and improve people’s lives.
Know what is in your environment and mitigate harm.