A bright green frog-shaped pencil case targeting children on Amazon contained 80 times the federal legal limit for lead, according to an investigation by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. This was among dozens of children’s school supplies being sold on Amazon.com with illegal levels of toxic metals.
The investigation was conducted by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office with the Washington State Department of Ecology and ran two tests in 2017 and 2018 on children’s school supplies sold on the e-commerce site, according to a statement from the Attorney General’s office. They revealed 51 total products sold on the site that had illegal levels of lead and cadmium. These included pencil cases, backpacks, lunchboxes, book covers, bracelets, and necklaces. Amazon also conducted its own tests on a number of the products to confirm that they contained illegal levels of the toxic metals.
“These items featured cartoon characters, plush exteriors and bright primary colors and were marketed to children younger than 12,” the statement wrote. It also states that a pencil case had more than 35 times the legal limit of lead and almost 29 times the legal limit of cadmium. The US Department of Health and Human Services has identified cadmium as a known human carcinogen, and as the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote, exposure to lead “can cause serious damage to children’s developing brains.”
While there were just over 50 products identified as containing illegal levels of toxic metals, the investigation found that consumers across the country had bought at least 15,188 of the harmful products on Amazon. The tech giant reached out to the purchasers through their account emails early this year to inform them that they should dispose of the products. The company also spent more than $200,000 on refunds and will pay $700,000 to the Attorney General’s office for future efforts around environmental protection and toxic children’s products.
“Customer safety is Amazon’s top priority,” an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email. “We work closely with our selling partners to verify that the school supplies and children’s jewelry in our store are safe, and drive continuous improvement to our processes to verify the safety of these products. We welcome ongoing collaboration with the Attorney General and other agencies to promote customer safety.”
Amazon entered a voluntary agreement with the Attorney General’s office, and will now require any sellers on its site to provide Children’s Products Certificates and lab test reports indicating that their products don’t have any illegal levels of toxic metals. And if Amazon is informed by the Attorney General or Washington Department of Ecology that a children’s product or jewelry doesn’t meet the federal legal requirements, the company has two business days to take the product off its platform.
“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,” Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a statement. “This is especially true with products marketed for kids.”