Health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said mercury exposure can result in irreversible renal and central nervous system damage or death.
"In March 2010, coordinators of a health study notified members of a Mexican-American family in California with four study participants that they had elevated blood mercury levels and also notified the local health department, which in turn asked the California Department of Public Health to investigate," the report said. "State health officials interviewed the four study participants and a fifth household member and identified unlabeled skin-lightening creams with mercury content measured at 2 percent to 5.7 percent by weight as the likely source of mercury exposure."
Investigators in two states collected information and urine specimens for 22 people in five households. The results indicated 15 people had elevated urinary mercury concentrations -- including nine users of the cream and six non-users -- said the report published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
"Unlabeled skin-lightening creams produced in Mexico were the source of mercury exposure for users and non-users living in the same households," the report said. "Absorption of mercury through the skin and inhalation of mercury vapor generated by these creams likely were the modes of exposure."