Holiday Shoppers Beware: Amazon.com Lists Certain Mercury-Laden Cosmetics for Sale, But Leaves Customers in the Dark About Their Hazards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MEDIA CONTACT: Stefanie Spear, [email protected], 216-387-1609

Oakland, CA—Nov. 23, 2018—As You Sow issued a notice of intent to sue Amazon.com under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, commonly referred to as Proposition 65.

The notice letter, sent Nov. 21, alleges that America’s biggest online retailer has failed to provide a legally-required warning to consumers for skin-lightening creams sold on Amazon.com that contain dangerously high levels of mercury — up to 38,000 times the legal limit for mercury in skin-care products set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Despite having been previously notified of their illegal and harmful content, the online retailer has continued to allow these creams to be sold on its website.

“Amazon’s cavalier approach is particularly worrisome in the face of the upcoming holiday season, when shoppers turn in droves to Amazon.com to purchase gifts for their loved ones,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. “That is why As You Sow is taking legal action to force Amazon to, at the very least, provide a warning to consumers that the creams contain mercury, as required by law.”

Mercury is a central nervous system, reproductive, and renal toxicant. It can cause numbness or tingling in hands, feet, or around the lips; poor muscle tone in children; hypertension; memory loss; and anxiety, among other things. The FDA allows only 1 part per million (ppm) of mercury in skin creams, yet Amazon.com lists skin-lightening creams containing up to 38,000 ppm of mercury. With such high levels of mercury, the creams are classified as adulterated drugs by the FDA.

Multiple state departments of public health have also warned of the dangers of these creams, which are often marketed to darker-skinned women. The creams are so toxic that they must be disposed of as hazardous waste in California. Use can also result in contamination of household air and personal items.

Gordon Vrdoljak, Ph.D. of the California Department of Public Health, says this about the use of mercury-laden skin-lightening creams: “If people are using the product quite regularly, their hands will exude it, it will get in their food, on their countertops, on the sheets their kids sleep on.”

Despite knowledge of the dangerous content of these creams, Amazon continues to sell these products and has refused to provide notice or warning to customers who have purchased these skin-lightening creams, arguing that letting customers know that they have mercury-laden products in their homes “will simply upset Amazon’s customers” and cause Amazon to “undoubtedly experience negative publicity.” As a result, consumers buying skin-lightening creams on Amazon.com have no way to ensure that they are not poisoning themselves and contaminating their homes.

“The purpose of California’s Proposition 65 is to provide crucial information so that consumers can make informed decisions for themselves and their families,” said Sylvia Wu, staff attorney of As You Sow. “This is especially important when America’s biggest online retailer says it is not its responsibility.”

This is not the first time Amazon.com has been identified as a source for the illegal introduction of dangerous cosmetics to American consumers in violation of FDA standards. But curiously, the federal agency has continued to stand down, leaving consumers to fend for themselves.

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As You Sow is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies.

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