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Amazon promises to crack down on toxic school supplies

It sold kids' items with high levels of lead and cadmium.
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spukkato via Getty Images

Amazon has agreed to enforce more stringent rules nationwide when it comes to selling children's school supplies and jewelry after an investigation by the Washington Attorney General's Office. The probe has discovered dozens of children's products sold on the e-commerce giant's website, which contain levels of lead and cadmium much higher than what's allowed. Those items include pencil cases, backpacks, necklaces and bracelets, most of which are colorful or adorned with cartoon characters.

The investigators identified 51 products with excessive lead and cadmium content after two rounds of testing. Some pencil cases (like the one in the photo below) contain 8,500 ppm of lead, for instance, which is 80 times higher than the legal limit. One particular pencil case even had 35 times the legal limit of lead and nearly 29 times the limit of cadmium.

Exposure to lead can cause a variety of issues, especially for developing bodies. It could affect a child's behavior, and in worst cases, cause brain damage or even death. Cadmium, on the other hand, is an established carcinogen. That's why products marketed towards children aren't legally allowed to contain those metals above certain levels.

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In addition to identifying the specific products, the investigators have also determined that Amazon sold at least 15,188 items with high levels of toxic metals. Hopefully, some of those got tossed: after hearing from the Attorney General's office, Amazon reached out to users that purchased the toxic items in early 2019 to encourage them to dispose of the products and to issue over $200,000 worth of refunds.

The company also paid the Washington AG $700,000, which will go towards future environmental protection efforts. As part of the agreement, Amazon will now ask sellers across the US to provide lab testing certifications for products targeting children. Sellers wouldn't even be able to list their goods without proof that they're safe. In addition, if the Washington AG or Department of Ecology advise Amazon about a product that exceeds the metals' legal levels, Amazon will have to remove the listing within two days.

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