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Ritual Use of Mercury

What is the Task Force on Ritualistic Uses of Mercury?

The Task Force on Ritualistic Uses of Mercury investigates the health issues involving mercury facing Haitian- and Caribbean-American communities, particularly those that practice spiritist faiths such as Santeria. It continues the work of the OPPT Ritual Use of Mercury Program.

In January 1993, assistance was requested from EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) by a state department of health to explore the potential health effects of exposure to elemental mercury. An investigation revealed that religious supply companies, candle shops, and folk pharmacies or botánicas were selling candles flavored with mercury and vials of liquid mercury to be burned in candles, sprinkled around rooms, or consumed as a home remedy. The candles and sprinkled mercury are often used in the rooms of children and infants to bring good luck and protection from evil.

The Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics conducted a screening-level assessment in 1993-4 and prepared a number of public outreach materials, including simple "Mercury Alert!" flyers in English, Spanish, and Portuguese; a four-page fact sheet called "Hazards to Consumers Using Metallic Mercury in the Home Environment" with additional information in English and Spanish; and a series of radio broadcasts in Spanish on the Hispanic Radio Network. The printed materials were shared with State environmental and health agencies, and were available through the TSCA Hotline, (202) 554-1404.

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Emergency and Remedial Response (OERR) convened a Task Force on Ritualistic Uses of Mercury in January 1999 to recommend an appropriate course of action regarding the use of elemental mercury as part of certain spiritual practices and folk traditions. In forming the multi-agency task force, EPA hoped to gain a better understanding of these practices and traditions and their potential public health and environmental impacts. The Task Force on Ritualistic Uses of Mercury Report [PDF] summarizes the Task Force activities, provides an overview of what is known about cultural and spiritual mercury use, and makes recommendations for further investigation, outreach, and action.

For additional information about the Task Force on Ritualistic Uses of Mercury, contact:

Karen Martin
EPA Office of Solid Waste
Mail Code 5204G

1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20460
Telephone: 703-603-9925
E-mail: Karen Martin

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