Buyer Beware: Toxic Chemicals Uncovered at Amazon Flea Market

A new investigative report undertaken by journalists at the Wall Street Journal has revealed numerous potentially harmful products being sold at Among the problems revealed in this deep-dive, independent laboratory-tested investigation were a number of products containing toxic levels of chemicals.

Spin the Wheel and Hope for the Best

If you have shopped at in recent times you know that it has gone from a tightly regulated seller of hard to find books produced by independent publishers (and a few years later, highly curated electronic and household products) to the world’s largest flea market–replete with counterfeit products (including listings marked, ‘Sold by Amazon’) and what can only be described as pure junk, many times supplied by sketchy companies located in China.  Skimming consumer feedback on random product types reveals that these days purchases on can be risky business as the return policy may not even apply or the repackaging and return process may be too arduous to be worth it.  But nothing screams out, “Buyer Beware!” like the findings from the latest investigative report.

While the WSJ investigation did not unearth what one of our volunteer’s discovered: Counterfeit ‘Ugg’ boots that, among other problems, emitted a strong “toxic chemical odor” from the interior fake fur after being heated up by body temperature, what was uncovered should be enough to compel consumers to change where they choose to shop.  Here are some highlights from the investigative report:


Toxic Products for sale on Amazon: exercises limited oversight over items listed by millions of third-party sellers, many of them anonymous, many in China, some offering scant information. A Wall Street Journal investigation found 4,152 items for sale on’s site that have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators — items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves. Among those items, at least 2,000 listings for toys and medications lacked warnings about health risks to children.


The Journal identified at least 157 items for sale that Amazon had said it banned, including sleeping mats the Food and Drug Administration warns can suffocate infants. The Journal commissioned tests of 10 children’s products it bought on Amazon, many promoted as “Amazon’s Choice.” Four failed tests based on federal safety standards, according to the testing company, including one with lead levels that exceeded federal limits. Of the 4,152 products the Journal identified, 46% were listed as shipping from Amazon warehouses.


Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency fined Amazon for letting people sell unregistered pesticides. Amazon agreed, without admitting wrongdoing, to pay a fine and set up new systems to stop such sales.


Earlier this year, Washington state’s attorney general and Amazon filed a settlement in state court over state allegations that Amazon allowed school products on the platform that contained lead and cadmium above federal and state limits. Amazon didn’t admit wrongdoing.


Dozens of products the Journal identified as dangerous or mislabeled had the Amazon’s Choice designation, which many consumers take to be Amazon’s endorsement…One was the toy musical-instrument set. The Amazon listing said the set was “made of high quality nontoxic material, safe and reliable for little children” and claimed approval from the FDA. Journal-commissioned testing showed the set’s xylophone contained nearly four times the lead the federal government allows in children’s products.


Another musical-instrument set failing the Journal’s tests, made by a company calling itself Innocheer and listed as in China, likely contributed to a New York City child’s lead poisoning, according to city health officials.


Subsequent testing showed the set’s bright-yellow maracas contained 411 times the lead legally allowed, health-department documents show.


The EPA has announced a ban starting in November on consumer products containing methylene chloride, which the agency has linked to cancer and sudden death from toxic fumes. Amazon late last year said it would purge paint strippers using the chemical by March, but there were still dozens of them for sale then. When an advocacy group named Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families identified the products, Amazon took them down.


This year, the Washington state attorney general’s office examined school supplies and found 35 out of 41 Amazon products tested contained amounts of cadmium, lead or both above federal or state limits, state documents show.


After the state notified Amazon, the company conducted tests in a warehouse and found that four of 45 tested items had hazardous levels of lead or cadmium, including a unicorn necklace whose pendant-backing makeup was 35% cadmium, more than 8,500 times the legal limit in Washington, state documents show.



Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products

Just like tech companies that have struggled to tackle misinformation on their platforms, Amazon has proven unable or unwilling to effectively police third-party sellers on its site


Note: If you do not have a subscription to WSJ, you can access the full investigative report HERE.