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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:

  1. Determine that Amazon is a distributor of consumer products in commerce, as those terms are defined in the CPSA;
  2. Determine that the specified products are substantial product hazards under CPSA Sections 15(a)(1), 15(a)(2), and 15(j);
  3. 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:
    1. 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;
    2. 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;
    3. 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;
  4. 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:
    1. 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;
    2. 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;
    3. Provide monthly progress reports to reflect, among other things, the number of specified products located in Amazon’s inventory, returned by consumers, and destroyed;
    4. 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;
  5. Provide monthly reports summarizing the incident data submitted to CPSC through the Retailer Reporting Program;
  6. Order that Amazon is prohibited from distributing in commerce the specified products, including any functionally identical products; and
  7. 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.

Commentary

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, Lisa R. Burchi and Kelly N. Garson

On June 11, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in a press release that it issued stop sale, use, or removal orders (SSURO) to Amazon.com Services LLC (Amazon) and eBay, Inc. (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.  The SSUROs address over 30 products sold on Amazon and over 40 products sold on eBay, and include several products marketed with what EPA believes are false or misleading claims of efficacy against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19. 

EPA notes that Amazon and eBay are two of the largest e-commerce marketplaces and that they oversee millions of product listings.  EPA further notes that it has held discussions with the companies, and other e-marketplaces, to stop sales of products that falsely claim to be effective against COVID-19, as discussed on our blog.  Prior SSUROs issued to Amazon are discussed on our blog.

Registration of pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) is required prior to selling or distributing pesticides in the United States and it is a violation of FIFRA Section 12(a)(1)(A) to sell or distribute an unregistered pesticide.  The EPA-approved label for a FIFRA registered pesticide product contains directions for use, precautionary statements, and other provisions that reflect EPA’s evaluation of data to and determination of acceptable risk for the product at issue when used as directed on the label.  Pesticide products and devices are considered “misbranded” and in violation of FIFRA if, among other potential facts, they contain false or misleading claims and/or if their labels are missing certain required information (e.g., ingredients, precautionary statements, and directions for use). 

EPA included a list of the products and devices at issue in attachments to the SSUROs.  In the Amazon SSURO, EPA states that none of the listed products is registered with EPA, and that the products were misbranded because EPA believes they contain one or more false or misleading statements on their labels.  In the eBay SSURO, EPA provides three attachments listing products eBay offered for sale that EPA claims are unregistered, misbranded, or classified as restricted use in violation of FIFRA. 

The SSUROs prohibit Amazon and eBay from distributing, selling, or offering these products for sale.  EPA requires that Amazon submit a written accounting of all the violative products listed in the attachment to the SSURO, including providing the location, quantity, and container size for these products, every 30 days for the next 150 days following Amazon’s receipt of the SSURO, or until Amazon no longer has the violative products in its ownership, custody, or control.  Amazon must obtain written approval from EPA before it moves or removes any of the products from its facilities.  EPA requires eBay to notify EPA of the corrective actions eBay will take regarding the violative products in writing within ten days of receiving the SSURO. 

EPA notes in its press release the following examples of what it believes are pesticidal claims made for the products at issue that would require their registration prior to sale or distribution:

  • “Kills COVID-19”
  • “Complete sterilization including the current pandemic virus”
  • “Coronavirus disinfectant”
  • “2020 Coronavirus Protection Coronavirus Protection Clearance Sale”
  • “A Powerful, Green, Non-Toxic Solution Proven to Inactivate our current viral strain”
  • “Epidemic Prevention”
  • “Efficient disinfection to prevent the spread of disease”
  • “Help keep your family and those you care for healthy”
  • “Nontoxic causes no permanent injuries”
  • “Ingredients are biodegradable and have no harmful impact on the environment”
  • “There is no damage to the environment”
  • “You can easily purify the living environment”
  • “Safe for all people using”
  • “Gentle to Child & Pets”
  • “Chemical Free”

EPA claims as additional violations that the products it believes are pesticide devices sold by Amazon also lack required EPA establishment numbers (i.e., site-specific information for the facility where the pesticide or device was produced) that is a required element on all pesticide and device labels.

The eBay SSURO also addresses claims that eBay sold restricted-use pesticides without limiting those sales to certified applicators as required by FIFRA Section 12(a)(2)(F).  EPA states that EPA representatives purchased and received restricted-use products listed in Attachment C, Table 2 of the SSURO, but were not certified applicators at the time of the purchase, and were not required to submit proof that they were certified applicators prior to or during the sale.  Restricted-use pesticides may only be distributed or sold to certified applicators or persons under their direct supervision.  Certified applicators and persons they directly supervise are the only persons authorized to use restricted-use pesticides.

EPA’s press release highlights the following products: 

  • Described as a “particularly egregious” case are products found on Amazon containing Chlorine Dioxide sold with “unprovable claims of sanitizing and disinfecting hospitals, offices, and homes.”  In addition, several versions of the product listed on the site have very little to no English-language instructions. 
  • Product listings on eBay.com include 55-gallon drums of Methylene Chloride marketed for use against SARS-CoV-2 as a disinfectant and paint stripper.  Methylene Chloride is not approved for use against SARS-CoV-2.  EPA notes also that EPA banned the retail sale of Methylene Chloride to consumers for paint removal purposes under the Toxic Substances Control Act “due to acute fatalities that resulted from exposure to the chemical.”
  • Product listed on eBay called Virus Shut Out claiming to be a spatial disinfection card that would provide protection against SARS-CoV-2 to the wearer.  Virus Shut Out was subject to previous EPA enforcement action, discussed in our earlier blog items.
  • Product listed on eBay called Xtreme-Bio stating that it was exempt from EPA regulation and made entirely with “clean, green, safe, environmentally friendly ingredients” and that made claims to deactivate SARS-CoV-2.

Commentary

EPA has been vigilant in reviewing and acting quickly to address products making claims against coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and COVID-19.  The actions against Amazon and eBay are significant, as other actions have been largely targeted toward producers.  The responses to the SSUROs will be of interest and should be monitored.

Additional information on EPA’s efforts to discover and protect against fraudulent products is available on our blog.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi

On February 14, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Amazon Services LLC (Amazon) entered into a Consent Agreement and Final Order (CAFO) whereby Amazon agreed to pay $1,215,700 in civil penalties for approximately four thousand alleged violations under Section 3 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for the distribution of unregistered pesticide products.  Amazon neither admitted nor denied the specific factual allegations, which included: 

  • Between January 1, 2013, and November 1, 2015, Amazon distributed, held for distribution, held for shipment, or shipped two unregistered pesticide products called “3pcs Cockroach Cockroaches Bugs Ants Roach Kills Chalk”; and “Miraculous Insecticide Chalk” on multiple occasions in the United States. 
  • Between January 1, 2013, and March 1, 2016, Amazon distributed, held for distribution, held for shipment, or shipped three unregistered pesticide products called “HUA Highly Effective Cockroach Killer Bait Powder”; “R.B.T.Z. Safe Highly Effective Roach Killer Bait Powder Indoor”; “HUA Highly Effective Fly Killing Bait Powder”; and “Ars Mat 60 pcs. Refil for ARS Electric Mosquito Killer Convenient, Clean & Smokeless” on multiple occasions in the United States. 

Amazon also agreed to implement a supplemental environmental project (SEP) consisting of the development, deployment, and operation of a publicly available eLearning course, downloadable educational materials, and test on FIFRA requirements and associated regulations (eLearning Project).  Although no monetary amount was specified for the implementation of the SEP, the eLearning Project will be a significant undertaking, as the materials will be available in three languages (English, Spanish, and Chinese) and Amazon will require all of its Amazon.com sellers to complete the eLeaming course and pass an associated test prior to allowing such Amazon.com sellers to sell products identified as pesticides.  The only circumstance when this requirement will not apply to Amazon.com sellers is when a seller can “demonstrate that the seller's existing compliance program is sufficient to ensure products sold via Amazon.com comply with FIFRA.”

More information on FIFRA enforcement issues is available on our blog under key word enforcement.