An investigation of mercury poisoning and home contamination: Success through multi-sectoral collaboration
The NCCEH Environmental Health Seminar Series provides an opportunity for learning and knowledge exchange on a variety of environmental health topics. The seminars can be attended in-person or online.
Presenters: Lori Holmes, Huron Perth Public Health; Sunil Varughese, Public Health Ontario; Vince Spilchuk, Public Health Ontario
Cosmetics, such as skin creams containing mercury, have long been used in several countries for skin-lightening, anti-aging and acne treatment effects. The harmful effects of mercury to human health are well known. Although many countries including Canada have restricted its use in cosmetics to protect the public from mercury exposure, production and subsequent access to these products continues to occur.
The following presentation will outline a recent case of mercury poisoning in an infant that led to a collaborative public health investigation involving provincial, federal and international public health stakeholders. Through the investigation, a foreign-manufactured artisanal cosmetic skin cream, containing elevated levels of mercury, was identified as the source. A subsequent on-site public health investigation was initiated by a local public health unit to assess potential health risks and further sources of contamination within a family’s home and subsequent decontamination. This case is unlikely to be an isolated occurrence in Canada since the public health risks associated with personal importing and use of mercury-containing cosmetic skin cream are often overlooked by both the public and healthcare providers due to low awareness and the non-reportable nature of heavy metal poisoning. This investigation highlights that cosmetic mercury exposure may be more common than previously thought and public health interventions are critical to reduce the risk of exposure to an identified health hazard.