IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


26th April, 2024 Health


Source: Hindu

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  • The use of skin lightening creams containing mercury has been linked to serious health issues, particularly kidney damage, as highlighted by recent research conducted in Kerala.



  • A study published in Kidney International reported 15 cases of Membranous Nephropathy (MN) linked to the regular use of fairness creams.
  • Heavy metal screening revealed high levels of mercury in the blood and urine samples of affected individuals.
  • Mercury in fairness creams inhibits the formation of melanin, resulting in a lighter skin tone.
  • The obsession with fair skin drives the demand for such products, leading to widespread use despite the associated health risks.
  • Patients typically experienced non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, mild edema, and frothy urine.
  • High levels of proteinuria (protein in urine) were observed, indicating kidney damage.

Global Public Health Concern

  • The use of toxic cosmetic creams is a widespread issue, particularly in African and Asian countries.
  • Despite being banned by the Minamata Convention on Mercury, mercury-containing skin lightening products continue to be sold by major online retailers.
  • The lack of awareness and reluctance to stop using fairness creams pose challenges in addressing the problem.

About Mercury Metal

  • Mercury, also known as quicksilver, is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80.

Physical Properties:

  • Mercury is silvery-white in appearance and forms droplets rather than spreading out like water.
  • It is the only metal that is liquid at standard conditions for temperature and pressure.
  • The melting point of mercury is -38.83°C, and its boiling point is 356.73°C.
  • It has a density of approximately 13.5 g/cm³, making it over 13 times denser than water.

Chemical Properties:

  • Mercury is relatively unreactive with air, water, and many acids, but it reacts with strong acids, halogens, and sulfur compounds.
  • It forms amalgams with other metals, which makes it useful in various applications, especially in dentistry and in some types of thermometers.

Uses of Mercury Metal:

  • Historically, mercury was used in various applications, including medicine, cosmetics, and alchemy.
  • Thermometers: Mercury was commonly used in thermometers due to its high thermal expansion properties, but its use has decreased due to environmental concerns.
  • Barometers: Mercury barometers are used to measure atmospheric pressure.
  • Electrical Equipment: Mercury switches and relays were once used in electrical equipment, but they are being phased out due to environmental regulations.
  • Dental Amalgams: Mercury is used in dental amalgams for filling cavities.
  • Chemical Processes: Mercury is used in some chemical processes, such as in the production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide.
  • Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining: In some regions, mercury is still used in gold extraction, posing significant environmental and health risks.


  • Mercury is primarily obtained from cinnabar ore (mercury sulfide), which is roasted in air to release mercury vapor. The vapor is then condensed and purified to obtain liquid mercury.
  • Other sources of mercury include mercury-containing ores and by-products of certain industrial processes.

Environmental Hazards:

  • Environmental contamination occurs through various means, including industrial emissions, improper disposal of products containing mercury, and artisanal gold mining.
  • Mercury pollution can bioaccumulate in organisms and magnify up the food chain, posing risks to ecosystems and human health.

Health Risks of Mercury:

  • Mercury is highly toxic and can be absorbed through the skin, leading to systemic toxicity.
  • Chronic exposure to mercury can result in kidney damage, nervous system disorders, skin discoloration, and other serious health issues.
  • Physicians need to be vigilant and consider mercury poisoning in patients presenting with non-specific symptoms.

Policy Recommendations

  • Larger, multi-centric studies are needed to understand the extent of chronic mercury poisoning and advocate for stricter regulations on cosmetics containing mercury.
  • Policy makers and regulators are urged to take action to ban mercury-containing cosmetics and protect public health.




Q.  Mercury metal, with its unique properties and historical significance, has played various roles in human civilization. Critically Analyse. (250 Words)