AG investigation found some school supplies with more than 80 times legal limit of lead
SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that Amazon will commit to nationwide corporate reforms after his office’s investigation found dozens of children’s school supplies sold on its online marketplace had illegal levels of toxic metals lead and cadmium.
Ferguson’s investigation revealed that individuals in Washington and across the country made at least 15,188 purchases of products with illegal levels of lead and cadmium from Amazon.com. When it learned of the results of the investigation, Amazon contacted the purchasers in early 2019 encouraging the disposal of the toxic items and provided more than $200,000 in refunds. To resolve the investigation without a lawsuit, Amazon entered into a nationwide legally binding agreement to block the sale of children’s schools supplies and jewelry on Amazon.com without lab reports and other proof from the sellers that the products are not toxic.
In addition, Amazon will pay the Attorney General’s Office $700,000, which will be used to fund future environmental protection efforts, including future investigations into toxic children’s products.
“As a parent, when I buy products for my kids, I expect them to be safe,” said Ferguson. “All retailers must ensure that their products do not pose a threat to Washington children. If they don’t, they will hear from my office.”
“While so many of us benefit from the convenience of online retailers, the products they sell shouldn’t harm our families or the environment where we live,” said Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “This is especially true with products marketed for kids. I appreciate the close collaboration with the Attorney General in supporting the enforcement of the Children’s Safe Product Act, and I’m proud of the long-term difference we at Ecology can make with our product testing efforts.”
Both state and federal laws prohibit the sale or distribution of children’s products that contain lead or cadmium above certain levels. Lead can cause a variety of neurological problems in children, and in large amounts, can lead to organ failure and death. The federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act prohibits levels of lead exceeding 100 parts-per-million (ppm) in any accessible component of a children’s product. Under state law, levels of cadmium, a metal known to cause cancer, cannot exceed 40 ppm.
The Attorney General’s Office, in partnership with the Washington State Department of Ecology, tested children’s school supplies for harmful levels of lead and cadmium in 2017 and 2018. The tests targeted products the two agencies suspected might contain toxic metals. In total, two rounds of tests identified 51 products sold on Amazon.com that tested positive for illegal levels of lead and cadmium. In the first round of testing, 16 of the 43 products from Amazon tested positive for illegal levels of toxic metals. In the second round of tests, the two agencies found that 35 of 41 products examined exceed the legal limits. The Department of Ecology paid for the first round of testing and the Attorney General’s Office funded the second round.
These items featured cartoon characters, plush exteriors and bright primary colors and were marketed to children younger than 12. In particular, some sellers’ pencil pouches had component parts containing approximately 8,500 ppm of lead — more than 80 times the legal limit. In one test, a pencil pouch contained more than 35 times the legal limit of lead and nearly 29 times the legal limit of cadmium.
Amazon also performed its own tests on several products and confirmed that the levels were higher than those allowed by state and federal laws.
Children’s school supplies and jewelry found to exceed the legal limits of these toxic metals include:
- Pencil pouches
- Book covers
The legally binding agreement, filed in King County Superior Court, requires Amazon to discontinue the sale of any children’s school supplies or jewelry containing lead and cadmium levels exceeding those allowed by state and federal laws.
Amazon also will require all current sellers of these children’s products nationwide to provide certifications and lab testing from an accredited lab showing that their products are safe. The company identified approximately 18,000 sellers on its marketplace that offer around 900,000 individual children’s school supplies and jewelry products. These corporate reforms apply nationwide to all products of this type sold on Amazon.com, including those sourced from retail vendors (where Amazon is the seller of record) or sold by third-party marketplace sellers (where Amazon is not the seller of record).
Any future sellers must provide this certification before listing their products for sale. Moreover, if the Attorney General or Washington Department of Ecology advise Amazon of any children’s school supplies or jewelry that exceed safe levels, Amazon must remove the product from its online marketplace within two business days.
After Ferguson concluded his investigation and shared the results with Amazon, the online retailer contacted the consumers who purchased the more than 15,000 affected products, including nearly 600 of which sold to Washingtonians, and provided more than $200,000 in refunds. Amazon sent these notices to the email address associated with the purchaser’s account. Amazon also delivered this information to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to initiate a recall process.
Assistant Attorneys General Stacey Bernstein, Bill Sherman and Kelly Wood, along with Special Assistant Attorney General Aurora Janke of the Counsel for Environmental Protection Unit and Assistant Attorney General Patricia Bower of the Consumer Protection Division, handled the case for Washington.
Attorney General Ferguson created the Counsel for Environmental Protection in 2016 to protect our environment and the safety and health of all Washingtonians.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.Aho@atg.wa.gov