Consumers Can Sue Amazon for Failing to Provide Toxic Chemical Warning

Consumers can sue for failing to provide warnings that some products sold on its website may contain toxic chemicals linked to birth defects and cancer, following the upholding of a previous ruling by the California Supreme Court.

The previous lower court ruling maintained that Amazon violated California’s Proposition 65, which requires companies to warn consumers about products they make or sell that contain chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other types of reproductive harm. The California Supreme Court denied a request by Amazon’s lawyers to review the lower court’s ruling.

The Supreme Court’s action allows the lower court’s ruling to be used as precedent in state courts.


Products Containing Toxic Chemicals 

In 2014, a lawsuit filed in Alameda County claimed Amazon knowingly allowed skin-lightening creams to be sold on its website for years, despite concerns about the presence of toxic mercury in those creams. The suit alleged that some products manufactured by third parties and sold on Amazon contained mercury levels that were thousands of times the U.S. federal legal limit.

In 2019, a judge dismissed the lawsuit, maintaining that Amazon was protected by a section of the federal Communications Decency Act that shields websites from being liable for content posted by other parties. However, a state appeals court subsequently ruled that Amazon actively stores, sells, and ships merchandise, and in so doing, the online retail giant acts as more than a place for other retailers to simply list available products. According to this logic, Amazon would be required to issue Proposition 65 warnings.


What is Proposition 65?

Proposition 65 requires businesses to provide warnings to California residents about significant exposures to chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. The chemicals can be present in products, homes, and workplaces, or they may be released into the environment. Proposition 65 became law in November 1986; its official name is the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. The objective of Proposition 65 is to enable Californians to make informed decisions about their exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Proposition 65 requires the state of California to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. This list must be updated at least once a year. Mercury is one of approximately 900 chemicals included in this list.


How Can Mercury Cause Birth Defects?

Mercury is dangerous to women who come into contact with the heavy metal during pregnancy. It is a neurotoxin that can damage the nervous system, including the brain, kidneys, and liver. Mercury is passed to the fetus during pregnancy and to infants through breastmilk. Harmful effects of mercury include:

  • Blindness
  • Seizures
  • Brain damage
  • Hearing and vision problems
  • Inability to speak

Children exposed to mercury may develop problems affecting their nervous and digestive systems and may also suffer kidney damage.


What is the Connection Between Skin-Lightening Products and Mercury?

A review of skin-lightening and skin whitening products on the market found that many contain dangerous levels of mercury. Researchers analyzed over 100 popular skin-lightening products sold on online platforms such as Amazon and eBay. They found that almost half contained mercury above legal limits.

Mercury is widely used in skin-lightening products due to its ability to suppress melanin production, which gives color to the skin. It can also help lighten hyperpigmentation, such as dark spots and freckles.


How We Help Birth Defects Victims

Seek justice with the help of our experienced birth defects attorneys. Our alliance of birth defects victims’ attorneys has represented people like you affected by birth defects caused by toxic exposure, aggressively fighting the corporate giants who failed to protect vulnerable consumers. If you or a loved one was exposed to harmful chemicals while pregnant and now have a child who suffers from a life-altering birth defect like spina bifida, muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, we can help.