E.P.A. Threatens Legal Action Against Sellers of Fake Coronavirus Cleaners

Apr 6, 2020 by

The New York Times


Shoppers waited to enter a grocery store in Manhattan on Tuesday.
Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency warned Friday that disinfectants and sanitizers falsely claiming to protect against the coronavirus are flooding the market and threatened legal action against retailers that sell unregistered products.

A necklace containing chlorine dioxide, a bleaching agent, that supposedly sanitizes the wearer is among the bogus products, as is a sticker that claims to provide 30 days of protection against the coronavirus. A range of unregistered disinfectants, sprays, air purifiers and wipes also falsely assert they prevent infection from the virus.

A senior administration official said the agency is seeing a “huge” spike in such products, which have not been tested or registered by the E.P.A. While such products might not be harmful, the official said, they offer the public a dangerously false sense of protection that could deter social distancing and promote the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., is expected to meet by teleconference with online retailers Friday morning to warn them against selling unregistered products that claim to be effective against the virus but do not have federal certification.

Officials said the agency intends to issue enforcement measures that require companies to halt sales of fake products. It also is coordinating with the Department of Justice “to bring the full force of law” against anyone who continues to do so.

“We will work diligently to ensure that consumers have access to E.P.A.-approved and verified surface disinfectant products; products that we know to be effective against the novel coronavirus,” Mr. Wheeler said in a statement.

The E.P.A. specifically targeted a Japanese-made product called Virus Shut Out, which is a card containing chlorine dioxide worn around the neck on a lanyard. Those and other so-called “sanitization cards” are on sale on eBay and by individual retailers on Facebook. Last week the agency announced it had prevented shipments of it from entering U.S. Pacific ports under federal pesticide laws.

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Agency officials also reached out to Amazon to remove the product from its online marketplace.

On Friday the E.P.A. also added chlorinated tablets, a Chinese-made sticker called The Flu Virus Buster, as well as sprays and wipes that claim to kill “99 percent of germs” to the list of unregistered products that should not be sold.

Under the federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act of 1996, products that claim to kill or repel bacteria or viruses are considered pesticides and must be registered by the E.P.A., and products can only make public health claims if they have been tested and are registered with the federal government. In recent weeks the agency has published a list of registered disinfectants qualified for use against the coronavirus.

The coronavirus outbreak has not stopped the E.P.A. from also moving forcefully ahead with rolling back environmental rules. This week the agency announced a final rule weakening Obama-era standards for automobile tailpipe emissions. Yesterday the E.P.A. said it would grant one more month for the public to comment on a rule that would restrict the type of scientific studies used to determine policy, though public health groups had asked for even more time.

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