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Monday, November 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Amazon vows safety reforms after Washington state AG finds toxic lead and cadmium in children’s products

UPDATED: Thu., May 9, 2019

A children’s pencil case, pictured here and sold by Amazon, was tested during a Washington state Attorney General’s Office investigation that found more than 80 times the federal legal limit for lead. (Washington state Attorney General’s Office / Courtesy photo)
A children’s pencil case, pictured here and sold by Amazon, was tested during a Washington state Attorney General’s Office investigation that found more than 80 times the federal legal limit for lead. (Washington state Attorney General’s Office / Courtesy photo)
By Benjamin Romano Seattle Times

More than 15,000 people bought school supplies and jewelry geared for young children that contained dangerous levels of lead and cadmium on Amazon in 2017 and 2018, according to an investigation by the Washington state Attorney General’s Office and the state Department of Ecology.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Thursday announced that Amazon will make legally binding, nationwide corporate reforms to better ensure that things like plush pencil pouches, backpacks and bracelets do not contain toxic metals. Specifically, it must require any seller of these products to provide certifications and lab tests proving their safety.

The Seattle-based commerce giant will also pay Ferguson’s office $700,000. These steps allowed the company to resolve the investigation without a lawsuit.

The products, mostly made in China, were sold on Amazon by third-party merchants. These sellers, who use Amazon’s marketplace and logistics network to reach customers, in 2018 represented 58% of the company’s gross merchandise sales – a fact touted by founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in his annual letter to shareholders last month. Amazon collected nearly $43 billion in commissions and fees from third-party sellers in 2018.

Ferguson said the investigation highlights Amazon’s lax oversight of these sellers, who can be hard to distinguish from Amazon itself.

“From my perspective, candidly, Amazon wasn’t getting the job done,” he said. “You can’t really sugarcoat it.”

Scientists at the Department of Ecology tested 84 children’s products in the categories of children’s school supplies and jewelry sold on Amazon and found 51 had unsafe and illegal lead and cadmium levels.

One stuffed animal pencil pouch had lead levels as high as 8,500 parts per million, Ferguson said – over 80 times the legal limit for the metal, a neurotoxin. Another pouch contained more than 29 times the legal level of cadmium, which can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and other organs.

“That is deeply concerning for children’s health,” said Ferguson, who has 11-year-old twins and noted that kids often spend a lot of time with beloved items.

“We’re talking about products that kids are chewing on and holding on all day long and all night long,” he said.

As part of resolving the investigation, Amazon notified purchasers of the unsafe products, issued more than $200,000 in refunds and initiated a recall with the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.

An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement that customer safety is the company’s top priority and that the company welcomes “ongoing collaboration” with Ferguson and other agencies to promote safety.

The spokesperson did not respond to questions about efforts to ensure safety in other product categories, whether Amazon audits products sold by third-party sellers in its marketplace, or whether it has taken any action against the sellers of the unsafe children’s products.

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