To protect the public from mercury exposure, the government of Quezon City – the largest city in Metro Manila and the most populous city in the Philippines - has taken a bold action to crack down on dangerous skin whitening cosmetics laden with mercury, a highly toxic chemical.
Through Ordinance No. 2767, business and commercial establishments, as well as street, “tiangge” and online vendors, are forbidden from manufacturing, distributing and selling cosmetics containing mercury above the one part per million (ppm) limit set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in line with the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.
The ordinance introduced by Councilor Elizabeth A. Delarmente and subsequently co-introduced by 32 other councilors was filed on July 10, 2018. It was enacted on October 8 at a session presided over by Vice Mayor Ma. Josefina G. Belmonte and approved on November 19 by Mayor Herbert M. Bautista.
Cosmetics, including skin lightening creams and soaps, with mercury content above 1 ppm, are targeted for global phase-out by 2020 under the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which the Philippines has signed but not yet ratified.
“We laud the Quezon City Government for cracking down on the illegal trade of mercury-containing creams, lotions and soaps that are marketed to lighten the skin color and fix skin woes. We’re happy to have provided the City Council with relevant information justifying a clampdown on such dangerous products through our active presence in several committee meetings,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“The enactment of this ordinance, I hope, will draw much-needed action to realize the scheduled phase-out by 2020 of mercury-added products such as skin lightening cosmetics with mercury above 1 ppm. National and local governments should take notice of Quezon City’s progressive ordinance and consider adopting similar measures to protect consumer health against mercury in cosmetics,” said Lee Bell, Mercury Policy Adviser of IPEN, a global NGO network advancing on-the-ground efforts to implement the mercury treaty.
As noted in the ordinance’s introductory text, “mercury use in cosmetic products can have adverse effects, including skin rashes, discoloring and scarring, and can reduce skin’s resistance to bacterial and mycotic skin disorders, and can cause damage to the brain, nervous system and kidneys.”
The ordinance lists three prohibited acts, namely:
a. The manufacture, importation, marketing and promotion, distribution and sale of cosmetics with mercury content in excess of 1 ppm.
b. The sale, wholesale or retail, of cosmetics that have not been authorized by the FDA and/or have not complied with the labeling requirements.
c. The open dumping, open burning and/or disposal of banned, recalled and/or confiscated mercury-containing cosmetics along with regular solid waste.
The ordinance provides for the following penalties: a fine of P2,000 and confiscation of banned cosmetic products for the first offense; a fine of P3,000 and suspension to operate business for the second offense; and a fine of P5,000, imprisonment of 30 days or cancellation of business license, or both, at the discretion of the court.
Additionally, all those convicted by the court shall be required to render 30-day community service to be determined by the local government authorities concerned.
As provided for in the ordinance, the City Health Department (CHD) will take the lead to ensure its strict implementation.
The CHD was tasked to coordinate with Quezon City’s Public Affairs and Information Services Office (PAISO), Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO), and Environmental Protection and Waste Management Department (EPWMD), as well as with FDA, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other relevant city and national agencies and offices for the implementation of the ordinance.
The CHD in cooperation with PAISO and EPWMD was also directed to conduct a wide information and education campaign regarding the ordinance with the assistance of concerned government agencies and non-government organizations.