- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Some Minnesota newborns will be tested for mercury exposure under a new state program targeting the use of the substance in skin creams.

Some skin-lightening creams studied as part of a state Health Department inquiry were found to contain mercury at 135 to 33,000 parts per million. That’s far higher than the 1-part-per-million level allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported (http://strib.mn/1gnjGXp ) Wednesday.

The Minnesota Family Environmental Exposure Tracking program will start testing immigrant newborns this summer in Twin Cities hospitals to look for disparities in mercury levels. Women will also answer questionnaires about their exposure to products like fish or lightening creams that can carry mercury.

Despite the illegal amounts of mercury, skin lightening creams are often sold in Latino, Asian, African American or Middle Eastern neighborhoods, the FDA says.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sent more than 1,000 letters to stores that sold the products telling them to stop the sales. The state group hasn’t yet received a complaint about stores selling the hazardous creams that sometimes label mercury under different names.

“The most efficient way to try to get at this problem is to reduce the demand,” said Katie Koelfgen, compliance and enforcement manager for the state pollution control agency.

The two-year program will look at whether exposure to mercury is higher in immigrant communities and will cost the state $534,000.

Amira Adawe, a health educator for St. Paul-Ramsey County Health, said an important part of curbing toxin levels among immigrants is the way men and women view skin color. For example, Adawe says, the word “caday,” is used as a Somali compliment for someone with fair skin.

“It’s a symbol to say,” Adawe said, “but it leaves a mark on the person that only light skin is beautiful.”

Adawe has created a closed Facebook group where members can share thoughts on beauty.


Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com