Minnesota bans mercury from cosmetics

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cosmetics, Safe cosmetics

Minnesota followed California in going beyond federal requirements
on cosmetics yesterday by becoming the first state to ban mercury
in beauty products, forcing manufacturers to adapt to varying laws
in different states.

Growing concern over weak federal regulations led lawmakers in California to force manufacturers to disclose ingredients that are known by the state to cause cancer or birth defects back in 2005. Now Minnesota has followed suite making it illegal to sell or distribute cosmetics, toiletries and fragrances containing mercury within the state borders. Mercury is a dangerous toxin that can cause neurological damage but it is still added legally at low levels to some eye products as a preservative and germ killer. Under federal law cosmetics may contain up to 65 parts per million of mercury. Nonetheless, Senator John Marty, who sponsored the complete ban on mercury in cosmetics, told Associated Press that even in tiny amounts the toxic metal can be harmful. However, the industry remains divided with some experts arguing that while mercury is hazardous at high levels, the quantities found in cosmetics are not sufficient to present a health risk to the consumer. The exposure a person would get from a product containing mercury in small quantities around the eyes would not cause a problem, said John Bailey, the chief scientist at the Personal Care Products Council. The implications of the new law have already been felt on a national level, as many leading cosmetics companies will have been forced to adapt their formulations to comply with the Minnesota requirements. The creation of state-level legislation on cosmetic ingredients is symptomatic of widespread frustration at federal laws that many view as inadequate. Organisations such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which has fought a long battle for tighter product safety legislation, are beginning to receive heavyweight political backing. The former presidential candidate John Kerry recently led an attack on the FDA calling for a full investigation into the lead content of lipsticks after tests conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found what it described as unacceptably high levels of the heavy metal in several lead lipsticks. Under the new Minnesota law, cosmetics manufacturers will face penalties of as much as $10,000 for failing to disclose mercury on product labels while retailers found selling cosmetics containing the metal could receive fines of up to $700. The state-wide ban on mercury in cosmetics is part of larger ban in Minnesota on the use of the metal in many consumer products including barometers, medical devices and over-the-counter drugs

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