I remember watching TV as a boy where the travelling salesman would go town to town in his covered wagon selling the “miracle elixir.” The “snake-oil” salesmen of today do not have to travel and have used the Global Pandemic caused by COVID-19 to peddle their wares. Some of this fraudulent activity was the subject of recent enforcement action by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Included in this enforcement were two of the world’s largest on-line retailers.

EPA Orders Amazon and eBay

According to a report on National Public Radio, “…the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Amazon and eBay to stop selling certain pesticide-containing products, many of which claimed to fight off and disinfect from the coronavirus.”

eBay Unregistered Pesticides

With respect to some of the eBay products being sold, the seller who was subject to the recent enforcement, Rong Sun, sold an unregistered pesticide as protection against viruses such as COVID-19. Rong Sun has pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

The USEPA said of the products being sold by the defendant: “The defendant sold an unregistered pesticide, Toamit Virus Shut Out, through eBay, claiming that it would help protect individuals from viruses. The pesticide was marketed as ‘Virus Shut Out’ and ‘Stop The Virus.’  The eBay listing depicted the removal of viruses by wearing the ‘Virus Shut Out’ and ‘Stop The Virus’ product.”

Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Natural Resources Division said, “Registration under FIFRA helps ensure that pesticides sold in the U.S. work and are safe for humans. The trafficking in snake-oil remedies outside of FIFRA is a criminal act…”

There was no information about how much product was actually sold.

Methylene Chloride

It was somewhat stunning to read that eBay had listed on their website 55-gallon containers of methylene chloride, marketed for use as a coronavirus disinfectant and paint stripper (that “dual use” should cause some pause). In 2018 the EPA banned the sale of methylene chloride in consumer products (under the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act). Methylene chloride in consumer products (e.g., paint stripers) has been blamed for several deaths (see our June 9, 2018, blog).

On line retailers were recently the subject of enforcement action for selling unregistered pesticides and in one case, drums of methylene chloride.

Over 30 Unregistered Products on Amazon

Regarding Amazon, on June 10, 2020, the USEPA issued an order to Amazon directing the company to immediately stop the sale or distribution of over 30 different pesticide products and devices on its website that are unregistered and/or misbranded.

Amazon Previous EPA Violation

This was not the first time Amazon has been cited by the USEPA. In reporting a previous violation by Amazon, a 2018 NPR story stated, “Chad Schulze, the EPA’s case officer in the investigation, said the products included a cockroach pesticide produced in chalk form that has harmed children in the past.” This incident resulted in a $1.2 million fine.

Wheeler’s Discussions with online Retailers

A release from the EPA states, “In April, Administrator (Andrew) Wheeler held discussions with Amazon, eBay, and other e-marketplaces on the availability of products that are unregistered, are registered but may be used only by trained applicators, or that make unsubstantiated and potentially dangerous claims. Despite those discussions, Amazon and eBay have thus far failed to consistently keep unregistered, misbranded, or restricted-use pesticides, and pesticide devices off their websites.”

Misleading to Dangerous

Some of the products being sold as COVID-19 “cures” and other uses may be simply misleading, while others are outright dangerous and potentially deadly (methylene chloride). While we will never rid society of unscrupulous individuals, hopefully on-line retailers such as Amazon and eBay will do a better job of keeping unregistered or restricted-use pesticides off their websites.

Do you have concerns about your environmental compliance program? We can help. As our late founder was fond of saying, “We get you out of trouble. We keep you out of trouble. We don’t make trouble.” Please contact me, and I’ll put you in touch with one of our environmental specialists.