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Amazon sold a chemical that led to 15 deaths. Who is responsible?

Lauren Rosenblatt, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

SEATTLE -- In December 2020, 15-year-old Tyler Schmidt took a deadly chemical to a wooded area near his home in Camas, Clark County, Washington.

His body was found two days later. The chemical was determined to be his cause of death.

That year, four more individuals died the same way. In 2021 and 2022, 10 more died after ingesting the same chemical.

All 15 individuals purchased the chemical — a substance that can be used as a food preservative or in medical lab settings in a low purity form — from Amazon. It was sold there with 99% purity.

The families of those 15 people have sued Amazon in six separate cases since 2022 — including one filed last month — alleging the company is responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. The families have accused Amazon of mislabeling the product, deleting reviews that warned others how it could be used and leveraging marketing tactics to remind shoppers of the chemical they may have left in their cart.

Some of those individuals, according to the lawsuits, learned of the chemical from a website that promoted suicide and encouraged users to buy the substance specifically from Amazon because they wouldn’t experience any friction to prevent the purchase.


Amazon changed the way it sold the chemical in 2022, making it only accessible to customers who had set up a business account, but the plaintiffs said the company had knowledge of it being used for suicide as early as 2018. In the past 10 years, it sold 11,000 units of the substance, according to court records.

In each lawsuit, the families are asking for a permanent ban on the sale of the chemical on Amazon and for a judge to rule that Amazon is liable for the deaths.

Amazon has argued in court documents that it can’t be held responsible for how its customers use its products, particularly if those customers choose to misuse them. A ruling against the company would have “far-reaching and untenable consequences” for itself and other retailers, attorneys for Amazon wrote.

The question of how much responsibility online platforms like Amazon have when something goes wrong is still unsettled, according to several experts who study product safety and product liability. Though these six cases are focused on one chemical, the outcomes could impact how Amazon monitors the products it sells — and what happens when one is misused.


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