Amazon, EPA Reach $1.2 Million Settlement Over Pesticide Sales
Seattle-based Amazon has agreed to pay more than $1.2 million in administrative penalties as part of an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the agency says will protect consumers from hazards of illegal and misbranded pesticides sold by the online retail giant.
In an announcement made Thursday, the EPA said the agreement settles allegations that over the past five years Amazon committed nearly 4,000 violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act by allowing third-parties to sell and distribute imported pesticide products from Amazon warehouses even though the pesticides were not licensed for sale in the United States.
"This agreement will dramatically reduce the online sale of illegal pesticides, which pose serious threats to public health in communities across America," EPA Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick said in a news statement.
The penalty was one of the largest ever of its kind by the agency, said Ed Kowalski, director of the office of compliance and enforcement at EPA Region 10. While agreeing to the settlement, Amazon neither admitted nor denied the specific facts alleged by the EPA.
But as a result of the settlement, Amazon has indicated it is now "committed to closely monitoring and removing illegal pesticides from its website," Hladick said in the agency's news release.
Among the most concerning products for sale were chalk products, used by customers to draw a pesticide-laden barrier on a surface the user does not want an insect to cross and survive.
Arriving in bright, cheery and easily opened packaging, the products look like sidewalk chalk, toys or even candy. Any child could easily open and play with them.
"A kid could get it in the mail, open it up, and have a large exposure," said Chad Schulze, EPA Region 10 Pesticide Enforcement Team Lead. "The risk is very real."
The packages involved in the sale were small, and therefore the total poundage of product that made its way into customers hands and homes is not large, Schulze said. However the toxicity of the illegal products and possible appeal to children make them especially dangerous.
EPA said investigation into the illegal products started with summer interns in the national office, searching the internet for unregistered pesticides offered by online retailers. Because of the enormous shift from brick-and-mortar retailers to online commerce, "This is a very difficult avenue of pesticides sales to get our hands around," Schulze said. Asked how much illegal pesticide product he believes is still out there, he answered "a lot."
"... that is why we wanted to take a strong stance on this," Schulze said.
Amazon, in a prepared statement of its own, said regulatory compliance is a top priority at the company and that third-party sellers must comply with all relevant laws and regulations when listing items for sale on Amazon.
"When sellers don't comply with our terms, we work quickly to take action on behalf of customers," Amazon's statement said. "We will continue to innovate on behalf of our customers and to work with brands, manufacturers, government agencies, law enforcement, and others to protect the integrity of our marketplace."
Under the terms of the agreement, Amazon said it will develop an online training course about pesticide regulations and policies in an effort to reduce the number of illegal pesticides available through the online marketplace, the EPA said.
The training -- which will be mandatory for all entities planning to sell pesticides on Amazon -- will be available to the public and online marketers in English, Spanish and Chinese.
EPA began investigating the sale and distribution of online pesticides at the end of 2014, according to the news release.
The following year, the EPA inspected an Amazon facility in Lexington, Kentucky, and inspectors in EPA's Region 10 office successfully ordered illegal pesticides from Amazon.
In August 2015, EPA issued an order to Amazon to prohibit the sale of the illegal pesticide products, including some that the regulatory agency said could be mistaken for blackboard or sidewalk chalk by children.
Another "Stop Sale Order" against Amazon was issued in January 2016 after the agency discovered that unregistered or misbranded insecticide bait products were also being offered for sale.
"Amazon immediately removed the products from the marketplace, prohibited foreign sellers from selling pesticides, and cooperated with EPA during its subsequent investigation," the agency said in its news statement. "The orders, as well as EPA's subsequent engagement with the company, prompted Amazon to more aggressively monitor its website for illegal pesticides. As a result, Amazon has created a robust compliance program comprised of a sophisticated computer-based screening system backed-up by numerous, trained staff."
In October 2016, Amazon notified customers who had purchased the illegal pesticides between 2013 and 2016 about the safety concerns with these products and urged disposal. Amazon also refunded approximately $130,000 to those customers.
EPA managers cautioned that because many more illegal pesticides are surely in commerce online, and that customers should check for the EPA registration label on any product they buy. Any product lacking the number is not legal for sale in the US.
Another possible red flag is a product name in fractured or nonstandard English. Names on the illegal products that were the subject of the settlement include "Green Leaf Powder Fly Killing Bait" and "Cockroach Cockroaches Bugs Ants Roach Kills Chalk."
Any customer who has purchased the products should stop using them immediately as the products, which attack the nervous system, can cause illness and even death, particularly for children. Dispose of the products in the trash, and do not flush in a toilet or put in the drain. Don't open the package, and handle it with disposable gloves.
Call the National Pesticide Information Center at 1-800-858-7378 for more information.
The enforcement action came even as EPA continues to frustrate many consumer and public health advocates on pesticide safety, most recently by reversing direction on banning chlorpyrifos, a pesticide, from being sprayed on food. The EPA's own scientists concluded that ingesting even tiny amounts of the chemical can interfere with the brain development of fetuses and infants.
EPA Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt canceled the ban on chlorpyrifos, ordered during the Obama administration, shortly after his appointment by President Donald Trump.
Thursday's enforcement action against Amazon targeted pesticides already illegal to sell in the U.S.
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