Skin-Lightening Creams Sold by Amazon.com Contain Dangerous Mercury Levels, NGO Claims

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As You Sow, a non-profit foundation has issued a notice of violation to sue Amazon.com for failing to comply with the Proposition 65 requirements that would require the company to warn  consumers about certain skin-lightening creams that  that the non-profit contends contain mercury at dangerously high levels. Proposition 65 is the California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.

According to the notice letter that was sent on Nov. 21, to the biggest online retailer in America, the company failed to provide the legally-required warning to consumers of the skin-lightening creams sold on Amazon.com that contain dangerously high levels of mercury. Some creams purchased and tested by the Mercury Policy Project showed mercury content at up to 38,000 times the legal limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As You Sow claims that although Amazon.com had been previously notified of their harmful and illegal content, the company continues to provide the creams available for sale on its website, As You Sow alleges.

The FDA limit for mercury on skin creams has been only one part per million (ppm) since 1973, but Amazon.com continues to list skin-lightening creams that contain a much higher amount of the substance. As You Sow’s CEO Andrew Behar claims. Behar said that Amazon’s cavalier approach, when informed of the high mercury content in the whitening creams on its website is “particularly worrisome.” He added that the foundation is taking legal action to at least force Amazon to comply with the legal mandate to warn the consumers that the whitening creams contain mercury. The FDA classifies creams with high levels of mercury as adulterated drugs.

As You Sow’s CEO Andrew Behar said that Amazon’s cavalier approach, when informed of the high mercury content in the whitening creams on its website is “particularly worrisome.” He added that the foundation is taking legal action to at least force Amazon to comply with the legal mandate to warn the consumers that the whitening creams contain mercury.

Mercury is a highly neuro-toxic metal that affects the renal, reproductive and central nervous systems. It can cause poor muscle tone in children, tingling or numbness around the lips, in the feet or hands, anxiety, hypertension and memory loss among other health problems.

Mercury is a very dangerous poison because the health risks from it are not limited to the users of skin products containing the toxic metal. Mercury vapors can contaminate the air and cause harm to other people as well as pets.

California’s Department of Public Health (DPH) warned the public in 2012 about high mercury levels found in unlabeled skin lightening cream allegedly smuggled from Mexico. The problem was discovered when a 39-year-old Mexican-American woman in Alameda County was hospitalized due to depression, headaches, numbness and forgetfulness which are some of the symptoms of mercury poisoning. Medical officials searched the patient’s home to determine how she was poisoned and they found the lightening cream.

 “Mercury is easily absorbed through the skin. just touching it exposes one to the dangers of mercury poisoning. For example, if someone in a household or workplace is using the whitening cream with mercury, other people can absorb the substance from the user’s laundry, personal items, and other surfaces that he or she has come in contact with. Nursing mothers using the cream can expose their newborns through breast milk.”

According to Gordon Vrdoljak, of the California Department of Public Health, notes that regular users of creams with mercury can spread the toxic element with their hands to the food they handle, on the countertops and gadgets they use or on the clothes their kids wear.

Although Amazon knows about the dangerous content of the creams identified by As You Saw, it still sells the product and did not want to provide the required notice or warning to its consumers. Amazon’s reason for its refusal to warn its consumers of the skin-whitening products is that the warning “will simply upset Amazon’s customers” and cause negative publicity for the company.

A staff attorney at As You Sow, Sylvia Wu said that California’s Prop 65 has labeling requirements to provide consumers with crucial information about a product.

Other states’ departments of public health have also issued warnings about the dangers of mercury poisoning and have advised consumers to:

  • Read the label of cosmetics and personal care products. Avoid any product that lists mercury as one of the ingredients. Buyers should be aware of the following synonyms for mercury:  mercurio, calomel, mercuric and mercuric chloride.
  • Avoid products that do not specify the ingredients on the label which are required by federal law.
  • The Department of Public Health warns consumer to be careful in buying imported anti-aging and skin whitening products especially Mexican made.

This is not Amazon. com’s first violation of FDA standards through its illegal sale of harmful cosmetics to American buyers. However, the federal agency has not acted to stop the problem, leaving consumers to protect themselves.

As You Sow claims that this is not Amazon. com’s first violation of FDA standards through its alleged illegal sale of harmful cosmetics to American buyers. However, the organization says that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration not taken action to stop the problem, leaving consumers to protect themselves.

About Jack Schatz

Jack Schatz began writing about Proposition 65 and other U.S. environmental laws in 1994. He has also written extensively about Consumer Product safety and product liability issues as well. He is the publisher and co-author of the 2013 and 2017 and upcoming 2020 editions of the Proposition 65 Handbook.He was graduated by the San Diego State School of Journalism.
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