By Lynn L. Bergeson, Lisa M. Campbell, and Carla N. Hutton
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced on July 14, 2021, that it filed an administrative complaint against Amazon.com, “the world’s largest retailer, to force Amazon to accept responsibility for recalling potentially hazardous products sold on Amazon.com.” CPSC claims that the specified products sold through Amazon’s “fulfilled by Amazon” (FBA) program are defective and pose a risk of serious injury or death to consumers and that Amazon is legally responsible to recall them. According to the complaint, the products include “24,000 faulty carbon monoxide detectors that fail to alarm, numerous children’s sleepwear garments that are in violation of the flammable fabric safety standard risking burn injuries to children, and nearly 400,000 hair dryers sold without the required immersion protection devices that protect consumers against shock and electrocution.”
CPSC filed the complaint under the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA). According to the complaint, Amazon acts as a “distributor,” as defined by CPSA, of its FBA products by: (a) receiving delivery of FBA consumer products from a merchant with the intent to distribute the product further; (b) holding, storing, sorting, and preparing for shipment FBA products in its warehouses and fulfillment centers; and (c) distributing FBA consumer products into commerce by delivering FBA products directly to consumers or to common carriers for delivery to consumers.
The complaint states that after CPSC notified Amazon about the hazards presented by the specified products, Amazon took “several unilateral actions,” including:
- Removing the Amazon Standard Identification Numbers (ASIN) for certain of the specified products; and
- Notifying consumers who purchased certain of the specified products that they could present a hazard. Amazon also offered a refund to these consumers in the form of an Amazon gift card credited to their account.
According to the complaint, these actions “are insufficient to remediate the hazards posed by the Subject Products and do not constitute a fully effectuated Section 15 mandatory corrective action ordered by” CPSC. The complaint states that “[a] Section 15 order requiring Amazon to take additional actions in conjunction with the CPSC as a distributor is necessary for public safety.” The complaint asks CPSC to:
- Determine that Amazon is a distributor of consumer products in commerce, as those terms are defined in the CPSA;
- Determine that the specified products are substantial product hazards under CPSA Sections 15(a)(1), 15(a)(2), and 15(j);
- Determine that public notification in consultation with CPSC is required to protect the public adequately from substantial products hazards created by the specified products, and order Amazon to take actions set out in CPSA Section 15(c)(1), including but not limited to:
- Cease distribution of the specified products, including removal of the ASINs and any other listings of the specified products and functionally identical products, from Amazon’s online marketplace and identifying such ASINs to CPSC;
- Issue a CPSC-approved direct notice to all consumers who purchased the specified products that includes a particularized description of the hazard presented by each specified product and encourage the return of the specified product;
- Issue a CPSC-approved press release, as well as any other public notice documents or postings required by CPSC staff, that inform consumers of the hazard posed by the specified products and encourage the return or destruction of the specified products;
- Order that Amazon facilitate the return and destruction of the specified products, at no cost to consumers, to protect the public adequately from the substantial product hazard posed by the specified products, and order Amazon to take actions set out in CPSA Section 15(d)(1), including but not limited to:
- Refund the full the purchase price to all consumers who purchased the specified products and, to the extent not already completed, conditioning such refunds on consumers returning the specified products or providing proof of destruction;
- Destroy the specified products that are returned to Amazon by consumers or that remain in Amazon’s inventory, with proof of such destruction via a certificate of destruction or other acceptable documentation provided to CPSC staff;
- Provide monthly progress reports to reflect, among other things, the number of specified products located in Amazon’s inventory, returned by consumers, and destroyed;
- Provide monthly progress reports identifying all functionally equivalent products removed by Amazon from amazon.com pursuant to the CPSC Order, including the ASIN, the number distributed prior to removal, and the platform through which the products were sold;
- Provide monthly reports summarizing the incident data submitted to CPSC through the Retailer Reporting Program;
- Order that Amazon is prohibited from distributing in commerce the specified products, including any functionally identical products; and
- Order that Amazon take other and further actions as CPSC deems necessary to protect the public health and safety and to comply with CPSA and the Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA).
CPSC “urges consumers to visit SaferProducts.gov to check for recalls prior to purchasing products and to report any incidents or injuries to the CPSC.” CPSC published the complaint in the July 21, 2021, Federal Register. 86 Fed. Reg. 38450.
In CPSC’s July 14, 2021, press release, Acting Chair Robert Adler states that the decision to file an administrative complaint is “a huge step across a vast desert -- we must grapple with how to deal with these massive third-party platforms more efficiently, and how best to protect the American consumers who rely on them.” According to The Washington Post, CPSC issued the administrative complaint “after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations between regulators and Amazon as the agency tried to persuade the company to follow the CPSC’s rules for getting dangerous products off the market, according to a senior agency official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on internal discussions.” This same official stated that “Amazon officials refused to acknowledge that the CPSC has the authority to compel the company to remove unsafe products.”
As reported in our February 16, 2018, blog item, “EPA Settles with Amazon on Distribution of Unregistered Pesticides,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Amazon entered into a Consent Agreement and Final Order (CAFO) whereby Amazon agreed to pay $1,215,700 in civil penalties for approximately 4,000 alleged violations under Section 3 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for the distribution of unregistered pesticide products. EPA later issued stop sale, use, or removal orders (SSURO) to Amazon and eBay for selling certain pesticide products that EPA claims are unregistered, misbranded, or restricted-use pesticides, and pesticide devices that EPA asserts make false or misleading claims. More information on the SSURO is available in our June 17, 2020, blog item, “EPA Issues Stop Sale, Use, or Removal Orders to Amazon and eBay for Unregistered and Misbranded Pesticides and Devices, Including Products with Claims Related to COVID-19.”
As reported in our October 9, 2020, blog item, Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, requested that Amazon Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chair Jeff Bezos launch an investigation into the safety of Amazon’s product line, AmazonBasics, and answer a series of questions pertaining to the company’s product safety and recall practices. The Committee’s October 7, 2020, press release notes that the request comes after a CNN investigation found that many of AmazonBasics’ electronic products “have exploded, caught fire, sparked, melted, or otherwise created hazardous situations at rates well above comparable products.” According to the press release, many of these products were never recalled and continue to be sold.
CPSC’s administrative complaint is just the latest indication of the pressure on Amazon to ensure the safety of the products the platform hosts. These federal agency and Congressional efforts will almost certainly cause more pressure on product manufacturers to ensure the products they offer for sale on Amazon are compliant with the relevant regulations.
By Lynn L. Bergeson, Lisa M. Campbell, and Carla N. Hutton
Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, wrote to Amazon Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chair Jeff Bezos on October 7, 2020, requesting that he launch an investigation into the safety of Amazon’s product line, AmazonBasics, and answer a series of questions pertaining to the company’s product safety and recall practices. The Committee’s October 7, 2020, press release notes that the request comes after a CNN investigation found that many of AmazonBasics’ electronic products “have exploded, caught fire, sparked, melted, or otherwise created hazardous situations at rates well above comparable products.” According to the press release, many of these products were never recalled and continue to be sold.
In addition to their request that Bezos initiate an investigation into the safety of AmazonBasics products, Pallone and Schakowsky also seek answers to a series of questions, including:
- What Amazon-owned products are no longer for sale due at least in part to safety concerns?
- What products -- both Amazon-owned and third party -- have been officially recalled?
- What notification does Amazon provide to customers who have purchased products that are later recalled or found to be unsafe?
- In addition to direct notification, what other kinds of consumer or public outreach does Amazon conduct to ensure consumers properly dispose of, repair, or replace an unsafe product?
- How can consumers find information regarding recalled products? If information is not readily available, why not, and what plans exist to make it available?
- How can consumers report product safety issues to Amazon?
- How many staff does Amazon have devoted to ensuring that products sold on its platform follow all applicable laws and regulations, and that Amazon is in compliance with obligations to notify the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) when a product is suspected of being unsafe?
The letter requests a response no later than October 21, 2020.
The letter and request for answers to the questions noted above are another indication of the pressure certain Members in Congress are putting on Amazon to ensure the safety of the products the platform hosts. Amazon is under increasing scrutiny by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in this regard, as reported in our February 16, 2018, and June 17, 2020, blog items, and this Congressional inquiry seems more of the same. These efforts will almost certainly cause more pressure on product manufacturers to ensure the products they offer for sale on Amazon are compliant.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and James V. Aidala
On August 2, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) announced that it has decided to reduce the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) safety factor for infants and children for pyrethroids from its current value of 3X to a new value of 1X. This decision is based on a July 1, 2019, OPP report entitled “USEPA Office of Pesticide Programs’ Re-evaluation of the FQPA Safety Factor for Pyrethroids: Updated Literature and CAPHRA Program Data Review.” Risk assessments incorporating the new lower FQPA safety factor for pyrethroids will be utilized in developing proposed registration review decisions for these compounds, and EPA has stated it will be taking public comment on the OPP report reducing the FQPA safety factor for pyrethroids after EPA publishes a notice of availability for the proposed registration review decisions.
Pyrethroids are a group of insecticides that includes natural pyrethrins (found in chrysanthemums) and more than 30 synthetic compounds with similar structure and activity. EPA has determined that it is appropriate to establish one FQPA safety factor for all pyrethroid active ingredients because these compounds all have the same mode of action and similar patterns of toxicity. Pyrethroid insecticides are widely used in and around residential structures, on pets, in treated clothing, for mosquito control, and in various agricultural applications. EPA indicates that although pyrethroids have relatively low mammalian toxicity, EPA believes that the principal concern for human risk assessment is a potential to cause acute neurotoxic effects.
The FQPA safety factor is intended to account for “potential pre- and post-natal toxicity and completeness of data with respect to exposure and toxicity to infants and children.” The FQPA safety factor is set by statute at a default value of 10X, but EPA may select a lower value for this safety factor if EPA determines based on “reliable data” that such a lower value will be safe for infants and children. This determination necessarily depends on EPA’s assessment of the quality of the data that address the susceptibility to adverse effects of the pesticide of infants and children. Based on current EPA guidance, OPP evaluates the need for the default FQPA safety factor of 10X in two components: a safety factor of about 3X assigned to pharmacodynamic (PD) differences and a safety factor of about 3X assigned to pharmacokinetic (PK) differences. PD differences refer to the sequence of events at the molecular or cellular level leading to a toxic response to a substance, while PK differences refer to absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of the substance.
EPA previously evaluated the adequacy of the database concerning risks to infants and children posed by pyrethroid active ingredients in 2011. At that time, EPA decided that there were sufficient data concerning the mechanism for potential neurotoxic effects of pyrethroids to allow EPA to reduce the factor for PD differences to 1X, but EPA retained the 3X factor for PK differences because EPA believed that the available pharmacokinetic data for pyrethroids was not sufficient for EPA to conclude that infants and children would not confront a greater risk of neurotoxic outcomes. After EPA made the 2011 determinations, the Council for the Advancement of Pyrethroid Human Risk Assessment (CAPHRA) conducted a variety of additional research to address whether children are more sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of pyrethroid exposure, and this research assessed both PD and PK differences. CAPHRA submitted a peer-reviewed physiologically based pharmacokinetic (PbPk) model for pyrethroids to EPA in 2018. After reviewing the new CAPHRA data and the current public literature for pyrethroids, EPA has now concluded that the factor for PD differences should be maintained at 1X, but the factor for PK differences should be reduced from 3X to 1X. Collectively, these determinations mean that EPA has concluded that there are reliable data to support a determination that infants and children are not more susceptible to the neurotoxic effects of pyrethroids than adults, so there is no need to retain either the default FQPA safety factor of 10X or the previous FQPA safety factor used for pyrethroids of 3X.
The adoption by EPA of a new FQPA safety factor of 1X for all pyrethroid active ingredients will likely facilitate retention of existing use patterns and use directions for a large number of pyrethroid insecticides that are commonly used in and around human residences and workplaces.
From a larger perspective, the process by which EPA evaluated and selected a proposed FQPA safety factor for pyrethroids may be seen as typical for most pesticides or classes of pesticides. The selection of a FQPA safety factor for a particular pesticide usually is based on review of available animal data, including PD and PK data, to determine whether there is any basis for concluding that infants and children may be more susceptible to adverse effects of that pesticide than adults. Where EPA decides that the animal data addressing this question are insufficient, affected registrants and other proponents of registration can consult with EPA concerning studies that will address the uncertainties. Depending on the outcome of such studies, EPA may be able to conclude that there is a scientific basis for a partial or complete reduction of the default FQPA safety factor.
Compared to this typical evaluation process, the recent decision by EPA to retain the default FQPA safety factor for all organophosphate (OP) active ingredients, which was based on EPA’s interpretation of neurodevelopmental effects reported at low exposure levels (below the threshold for acetylcholinesterase inhibition) in epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos, may be seen as an aberration. EPA’s decision to rely on epidemiology studies that may be susceptible to methodological biases, and the decision to utilize epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos to set the FQPA safety factors for all OP pesticides, have both been controversial.
EPA’s recent decision to retain the current tolerances and registrations for chlorpyrifos was based in significant part on EPA’s interpretation of a PbPk model for chlorpyrifos previously submitted by DowAgro (now Corteva), which mitigated to some degree EPA’s retention of the default FQPA safety factor for chlorpyrifos. Corteva may submit further data addressing PD and PK differences for chlorpyrifos, and EPA has also stated that it intends to review some new animal studies for chlopyrifos, which purport to show neurodevelopmental effects at low exposure levels. Perhaps these data will allow EPA to establish a point of departure (POD) for chlorpyrifos risk assessment without any need for a further excursion into the unfamiliar risk assessment territory represented by EPA’s use of epidemiology data for chlorpyrifos.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Lara A. Hall, and Margaret R. Graham
On May 8, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its invitation for public input regarding the “Strategic Roadmap: New Approaches to Evaluate the Safety of Chemicals and Medical Products” (Roadmap), the development of which was coordinated by the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM). ICCVAM states that the vision of the Roadmap is to “establish new approaches for evaluating the safety of chemicals and medical products in the United States that will increase confidence in alternative methods and improve their relevance to human health outcomes while maximizing efficiency and maintaining a commitment to replace, reduce, and refine animal use.” ICCVAM’s Roadmap effort was introduced in March 2016. A detailed presentation on the development of the Roadmap is available here.
ICCVAM, a permanent committee of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) under the National Toxicology Program Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM), is composed of representatives from 16 U.S. federal regulatory and research agencies that require, use, generate, or disseminate toxicological and safety testing information. As a participating member of ICCVAM, EPA states that its role is to “encourage the development and use of alternatives to animal test methods, ensure that new methods are valid, review test method recommendations, and as appropriate, adopt these alternatives in our own regulatory programs.”
There are also three upcoming public meetings that will provide additional opportunities to comment on topics relevant to this effort:
- ICCVAM Public Forum: May 23, 2017, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, Maryland;
- NTP Board of Scientific Counselors meeting: June 29, 2017, NIEHS, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; and
- Scientific Advisory Committee on Alternative Toxicological Methods meeting: September 18-19, 2017, NIH, Bethesda, Maryland.
As ICCVAM’s commitment to replace, reduce, and refine animal use continues to draw public comment and gain support, there is an increasing need to demonstrate the utility and harmonization of predictive approaches in toxicology testing with the conventional safety evaluation of chemicals and medical products. Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) continues to monitor the development, validation, and implementation of alternative in vitro and in silico test methods, high throughput screening assays, and computational models as they are integrated into global regulatory frameworks.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On June 3, 2015, the General Court of the European Court of Justice issued a ruling in Luxembourg Pamol (Cyprus) Ltd. and Luxembourg Industries Ltd. (Luxembourg) vs. European Commission regarding the publication of information by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in its peer reviewed draft assessment report of potassium phosphonate that Luxembourg claimed as confidential.
The case was brought by Luxembourg after EFSA rejected Luxembourg’s claim that certain information be treated as confidential, and not included in the EFSA’s peer reviewed draft assessment report on potassium phosphonate. The European Commission agreed with EFSA. EFSA stated that under the Plant Protection Product Regulation No. 1107/2009 (and Article 14 of its predecessor Directive 91/414) and European Union (EU) Regulation No. 199/2011 setting forth procedures for reviewing certain active substances including EFSA’s peer review of draft assessment reports, confidential status cannot be extended to: information on the composition of the substance at issue; the analysis method for that substance; the analysis methods for residues; the scientific information on the basis for the evaluation and risk assessments performed; and information already in the public domain. After EFSA refused the confidentiality request, Luxembourg sought reconsideration by the European Commission, who found that the sanitization principles applied by EFSA “reflect a common understanding of EFSA and the Commission of the provisions of Article 14 of Directive 91/414/EEC.”
In its decision, the Court dismissed the lawsuit because Luxembourg brought the case against the European Commission when the appropriate party was EFSA. The Court agreed with the Commission that the decision at issue was an act of and attributable to EFSA, stating that while the Commission “indicated to EFSA the legislation and principles applicable to the requests for confidentiality at issue, the fact remains that the Commission did not apply that legislation and those principles in order to determine those claims itself.” The Court stated that Article 7(2) of Regulation No. 188/2011 grants EFSA to make confidentiality determinations “in its own right” and that Articles 12(1) and 60 of Regulation No. 1107/2009 show that EFSA is “competent to adopt a decision on a request for confidentiality.”
While this decision does not provide certainty or guidance to industry regarding the type of information that can be claimed, and accepted, as confidential, it does add to a growing pool of cases addressing complex issues regarding the confidential treatment of information related to agrochemicals. This includes, but is not limited to, the ongoing case following the European Court of Justice’s October 8, 2013, ruling that the European Commission erred by refusing access to documentation about the pesticide glyphosate.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Timothy D. Backstrom
On December 16, 2014, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and its affiliate the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA), along with a coalition of other non-governmental organizations, brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit concerns a May 1, 2008, petition by these organizations requesting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take regulatory action concerning nanoscale silver (nanosilver) products, including classifying nanosilver as a pesticide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Since receiving the CFS/ICTA petition, EPA has taken a number of incremental steps to regulate nanosilver. After inviting comment concerning the petition, EPA referred scientific issues concerning risks from and exposure to nanosilver to the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), announced that it would treat nanoscale pesticides (including nanosilver) as a separate pesticidal active ingredient, established new registration requirements for several specific nanosilver products, and initiated the registration review process for registered nanosilver products.
Notwithstanding these actions, EPA has not formally responded to the 2008 CFS/ICTA petition, and the petitioners have characterized the steps taken by EPA to date as “toothless.” Rather than contesting the suit, EPA may seek an agreement requiring EPA to respond formally to the petition by a specified date. Perhaps EPA will characterize the regulatory actions taken to date as a partial grant of the petition. On the other hand, many of the nearly 400 nanosilver products that CFS/ICTA claim EPA should regulate under FIFRA have no pesticidal claims or purpose or are being sold and distributed outside of the U.S. With respect to these products, EPA will likely respond that it has no authority to provide the relief sought by the petitioners.