Amazon Sued for Failure to Warn Consumers about Toxic Levels of Mercury in Skin-lightening Creams

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

OAKLAND, CA—April 17, 2019—The consumer protection group As You Sow filed a lawsuit today against Amazon.com (Amazon) under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, commonly referred to as Proposition 65. The lawsuit alleges that Amazon has knowingly exposed consumers to mercury by allowing mercury-laden, skin-lightening creams to be sold through its website without ensuring consumers receive the legally required warnings.  

Testing of skin-lightening creams purchased through Amazon.com found dangerously high levels of mercury — thousands of times the legal limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — and up to 38,000 times in one skin-care product. With such high levels of mercury, the creams fall within the misbranded and adulterated drugs classification set by the FDA. 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.

“Amazon has effectively created a black market where products are being sold without full compliance with U.S. laws,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. “By actively recruiting individuals and companies from all over the world to place products on the Amazon marketplace, without ensuring those products are safe and lawful, Amazon’s business model allows sellers to avoid critical health and safety compliance. It is not acceptable for Amazon to expose hundreds of millions of consumers to health and safety risks.”

Amazon has been repeatedly informed of the health danger these skin-lightening creams present. Last year, more than 50 public interest groups issued an open letter to Amazon.com, asking it to cease sales of many of the skin-care products at issue in As You Sow’s lawsuit.

“Amazon must be held accountable for its toxic trade in illegal skin-lightening products,” said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project, one of the public interest groups behind the open letter. “As a first step under California law, Amazon must warn consumers about products that contain mercury.”

Mercury is a central nervous system, reproductive, and renal toxin. The state of California lists mercury as a reproductive toxicant under Proposition 65. Multiple state departments of public health also have warned of the dangers of skin-lightening creams, which are often marketed to darker-skinned women.  

Amazon was sued last year for selling similar products. Amazon’s primary defense was that it doesn’t have any obligation to comply with the law — rather, it suggests that health and safety compliance of products sold on its site should be handled by each of the individual entities from all over the world that use its online marketplace. “It is not reasonable for Amazon to reap the enormous rewards of opening its online market to products that cause health harms, while taking zero responsibility to prevent such harms,” said Behar.

“It is critical that America’s biggest online store take responsibility for protecting its customers and making sure that the products sold on its site are in compliance with health and safety laws,” said Sylvia Wu, staff attorney at As You Sow. “The purpose of California’s Proposition 65 is to ensure consumers receive information about toxins in a product before they buy it, allowing them to make informed decisions for themselves and their families.”

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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.

As You Sow