In April, 40 people in six Orange County homes, mostly in Santa Ana, were exposed to dangerous levels of mercury after someone in each household used skin lightening creams laced with the toxic metal.
At least one young girl was hospitalized with symptoms of mercury poisoning. Officials first became aware of the creams after the hospitalized girl’s tests confirmed mercury poisoning. Investigators learned that her mother had been using a skin lightening cream that contained nearly 40,000 times the allowable limit for mercury in cosmetics.
The mercury made its way onto bedding, clothes and furniture, turning the home into a hazardous waste site.
Investigators of the Orange County cases determined that the creams had come from Mexico. The creams appeared to be homemade, in little jars with hand-typed labels. Some people in the Latino community call them “clandestinas” – clandestine products that cross the border in people’s suitcases and get passed through the community by word of mouth.
The informal market means health officials also don’t know how much toxic cream might still be out in the community, being slathered on by people oblivious to its dangers.
Extracts from a KPCC article (original). Published 6 August 2014.