In January 1993, an EPA investigation revealed that religious supply companies, candle shops, and folk pharmacies or botanicas 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.
Burning or sprinkling mercury produces invisible, odorless mercury vapor, which is highly toxic even in small quantities. Mercury vapor is easily absorbed through breathing or the skin. Although most exposure does not produce any immediate symptoms, mercury accumulates in the brain, the central nervous system, and the kidneys.
The Ritual Use of Mercury Program was soon put into place targeting Haitian- and Caribbean-American communities, particularly those that practice spiritist faiths such as Santeria. Posters and information sheets are available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.