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Mercury poisoning case confirmed

  • 2002.01.04

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) today (January 4) urged members of the public to immediately stop using a beauty cream "YOUDI" after investigations into a mercury poisoning case showed samples of the product had high concentrations of mercury.

Persons who have been applying the cream on a regular basis are advised to call the Department of Health (DH) Hotline 2961 8968 . The DH will arrange screening for mercury intoxication for those who need the test. Effective treatment is available for persons with mercury poisoning.

Because mercury is gradually passed out of the body from the urine and faeces, persons who have not used the cream for six months or more are unlikely to have elevated mercury levels. Nonetheless, they should also call the DH Hotline for advice.

Symptoms of mercury poisoning may include hand tremors, visual or hearing loss, memory deterioration, irritability, and difficulty with sleeping. Mercury can damage the kidneys resulting in edema, particularly in the ankles and legs. Mercury can also pass from the mother to the fetus resulting in impaired brain development.

The Customs and Excise Department(C&ED) warned owners and operators of shops of the potential hazards of mercury poisoning and reminded them not to purchase "YOUDI" beauty cream for sale in their shops.

The Consultant (Community Medicine) of DH, Dr Thomas Tsang said: "DH in late December last (2001) year received a report from the Tuen Mun Hospital of a mercury poisoning case involving a 32-year-old female domestic helper who had applied the beauty cream in question to her face during August through November. The woman was discharged from the hospital on December 22.

"DH visited the patient's home and gave health advice to her employer's family. All the five family members were asymptomatic."

The patient said she had bought the beauty cream from a hawker in Causeway Bay.

The Head of Customs Protection and Prosecution Bureau of C&ED, Mr Chan Kwok-keung said: "In response to the information, officers of C&ED and DH conducted a joint operation for the "YOUDI" brand beauty cream at several locations late last month (December). In the operation, officers seized 14 boxes of "YOUDI"‥ beauty cream in a small retailing shop.

"Subsequent chemical analysis conducted by the Government Laboratory confirmed that the mercury content of the beauty cream seized from the shop was very high, ranging from 7 000 parts per million (ppm) to 21 000 ppm."

However, there was insufficient information to identify people who had bought and used the cream.

Dr Tsang said: "As a precautionary measure, DH is appealing to persons who have been using "YOUDI" cream on a regular basis to call the DH Hotline at 2961 8968. We will provide appropriate follow up, including testing and arranging treatment as required.

"Employers are advised to spread the message among their domestic helpers and their friends. The DH's service is free of charge.

"The DH Hotline is manned by health care professionals between 9 am and 9 pm daily and telephone recording is available during the remaining 12 hours of a day.

"DH has adequate manpower and facilities for screening and arrangements will be made for persons to be referred to hospitals/clinics for appropriate management, if necessary. It is not necessary for these persons to go to Accident and Emergency Departments of public hospitals in the first instance."

Mr Chan said: "Under the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance, it is an offence to supply, manufacture or import into Hong Kong consumer goods unless the goods comply with the general safety requirement for consumer goods or an approved standard applied to the goods.

"The Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance carries a maximum penalty of a fine of $100,000 and an imprisonment for one year on first conviction, and $500,000 and two years on subsequent conviction.

"The public is reminded to purchase cosmetic products from reputable retailers. They should avoid buying such products from unknown sources, such as street hawkers.

"For enquiries and complaints regarding unsafe consumer goods, consumers can write to the Consumer Protection and Prosecution Bureau, Customs and Excise Department on the 11th Floor, North Point Government Offices, 333 Java Road, North Point, Hong Kong, or call the Customs Hotline 2545 6182."

Reprinted from HKSAR Government web page :