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Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12(9), 10943-10954; doi:10.3390/ijerph120910943

Mercury Toxicity and Contamination of Households from the Use of Skin Creams Adulterated with Mercurous Chloride (Calomel)

1
California Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Investigations Branch, Richmond, CA 94706, USA
2
California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Enforcement and Emergency Response Division, Sacramento, CA 95826-3200, USA
These authors contributed equally to this work.
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Paul B. Tchounwou
Received: 25 July 2015 / Revised: 26 August 2015 / Accepted: 27 August 2015 / Published: 2 September 2015
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [682 KB, uploaded 2 September 2015]

Abstract

Inorganic mercury, in the form of mercurous chloride, or calomel, is intentionally added to some cosmetic products sold through informal channels in Mexico and the US for skin lightening and acne treatment. These products have led to multiple cases of mercury poisoning but few investigations have addressed the contamination of cream users’ homes. We report on several cases of mercury poisoning among three Mexican-American families in California from use of mercury-containing skin creams. Each case resulted in widespread household contamination and secondary contamination of family members. Urine mercury levels in cream users ranged from 37 to 482 µg/g creatinine and in non-users from non-detectable to 107 µg/g creatinine. Air concentrations of up to 8 µg/m3 of mercury within homes exceeded the USEPA/ATSDR health-based guidance and action level of <1.0 μg/m3. Mercury contamination of cream users’ homes presented a multi-pathway exposure environment to residents. Homes required extensive decontamination, including disposal of most household items, to achieve acceptable air levels. The acceptable air levels used were not designed to consider multi-pathway exposure scenarios. These findings support that the calomel is able to change valence form to elemental mercury and volatilize once exposed to the skin or surfaces in the indoor environment. View Full-Text
Keywords: calomel; inorganic mercury poisoning; mercurous chloride; mercury health-based guidance values; mercury toxicity children; residential mercury contamination; skin lightening cream calomel; inorganic mercury poisoning; mercurous chloride; mercury health-based guidance values; mercury toxicity children; residential mercury contamination; skin lightening cream
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Copan, L.; Fowles, J.; Barreau, T.; McGee, N. Mercury Toxicity and Contamination of Households from the Use of Skin Creams Adulterated with Mercurous Chloride (Calomel). Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12, 10943-10954.

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