EPA Announces Enforcement Efforts Addressing Fraudulent SARS-CoV-2 Disinfectant Claims

Each blog entry addressing the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 reflects the continuing onslaught of the pandemic. According to the Johns Hopkins Virus Tracker as of this writing on April 11, 2020, worldwide cases number more than 1,760,000 cases and deaths number more than 107,000. Spread across the U.S. continues, with more than 519,000 cases and 20,000 deaths reported. New York continues to have by far the greatest concentration of cases and deaths in the U.S., accounting for a significant portion of each.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA”) has recently announced actions to prevent the sales of products making fraudulent disinfectant claims asserting the ability to control the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In the U.S., disinfectants are regulated as pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”). Each individual product must be registered with EPA as well as every state in which it is offered for sale. A violation of FIFRA, such as selling an unregistered disinfectant, carries a penalty of up to $20,288 for each offense.

EPA actions include educational efforts with major retailers and retail trade associations, as well as enforcement actions directed at specific products for which fraudulent claims are being made. EPA is coordinating with major online retailers to assist them in identifying unlawful products. Amazon has stated that it has removed from its listings more than 6 million products making illegal claims and has created algorithms to screen listings for such products.

While urging the public to report illegal products, EPA does not reveal any information regarding pending investigations or enforcement actions. Only when a matter is resolved does information become public. Nonetheless EPA has identified four products and their associated claims as examples of unlawful claims and presumably the subject of enforcement actions. They are:

  • Lanyards that claim to protect wearers from coronavirus
  • Unregistered disinfectant tablets
    • Epidemic prevention Chlorinating Tablets Disinfectant Chlorine Tablets Swimming Pool Instant Disinfection Tablets Chlorine Dioxide Effervescent Tablet Chlorine Disinfectant 100g Cozy apposite Fun Suit
    • The Flu Virus Buster, CLO2 Disinfection Sticker, Removable sterilize air purifier, Anti COVID-19, Stop Coronavirus disease infection /Influenza Buster Disinfectant 1 Box / 10 Tablets
  • Unregistered disinfectant sprays
    • Fullerene silver antibacterial solution/24 Hour Defense Hand Sanitizer Disinfectant Spray Against Corona Virus COVID- 19 Kills 99.99% Of Germs Bacteria 24 Hours of Lasting Protection Alcohol Free 50ml (1.7 fl. oz)
  • Unregistered disinfectant wipes
    • 99.9% Sterilization Wipes/16/32/48/64/96pcs Sterilization Rate of 99% Disinfection Wet Wipes and Paper Napkin Prevention of Coronavirus

For more information about EPA’s action addressed to SARS-CoV-2 and disinfectants used to control the virus, see EPA Information for Registrants Regarding Disinfectants for the Control of SARS-CoV-2

EPA Announces Enforcement Settlement for Sale of Unregistered Biocides; Imposes Penalty of $1.498 Million.

             The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has released a Consent Agreement and Final Order (“Order”) against AFCO C & S LLC of Chambersburg, PA which was signed on September 26, 2019. The Order alleges AFCO engaged in the sale of unregistered biocides, sales of registered biocides in conjunction with unregistered brand names and sales of registered pesticides with claims exceeding those registered. The Order imposes a penalty of $1,489,000, one of higher penalties ever imposed under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”).=

The sale of unregistered pesticides occurred 1,031 times from January 1, 2015 through August 9, 2018. During the same period, sales of a registered product misbranded with an unapproved brand name happened forty-one times while sales of registered products for which unregistered claims were made happened five times. To flesh out the scope of claims being made, EPA examined websites, Safety Data Sheets, sales promotional materials and sales contracts and technical data sheets.

EPA commenced this matter by conducting an inspection of AFCO on June 20, 2016.  However, while the sales of the unregistered products must have been obvious early in the investigation, a Stop Sale Order was not issued until July 13, 2018, over two years after the initial inspection. Since the Order states that unlawful sales continued until August 9, 2018, it would appear that unlawful sales in violation of the Stop Sale Order occurred, although no such violation is identified in the Order.

Given the size of the penalty and an assertion by AFCO that due to the size of the penalty it would be unable to pay the full amount in the standard thirty days without financial hardship, the Order allows payment over twelve monthly payments plus 1% interest. An interesting background note is that on July 25, 2017, midway in the investigation, major pesticide registrant ZEP announced its intent to acquire AFCO. If adequate due diligence was not conducted, ZEP may have received a big surprise as a result of this acquisition.

One important lesson for registrants from this action is the scope of materials that EPA may examine in determining whether pesticidal claims are being made for unregistered products or whether claims beyond the scope of the registered claims are being made for registered products. Particular care needs to be taken that website statements regarding registered products conform to a product’s label.