EPA Works Against COVID-19 Disinfectant Scams

Did you know that products to sanitize, disinfect, and sterilize surfaces are considered pesticides and are regulated by the EPA under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)?

Disinfectant cleaning

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As with any crisis, there are always those who wish to capitalize on the public’s fears. COVID-19 is no exception. Apparently, the market has been flooded by products that claim to kill the germs spreading the virus. In Region 2 alone, the EPA has issued 29 Advisory Letters and 8 Notices of Warning to entities operating in New York and New Jersey to address pesticide products and devices that were found to be marketed with unsubstantiated claims of efficacy against the novel coronavirus (the cause of COVID-19) and other pathogens as of October 15, 2020.

“These advisory letters were sent to a variety of businesses, including individual online sellers and large national companies,” according to the EPA.

The Agency’s regional office has also issued 52 Notices of Refusal of Admission preventing importation of illegal disinfectants and pesticidal products from entering into New York, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico.

“Unregistered disinfectants put consumers at risk. Whether these products are being sold to make a quick buck or are being sold out of ignorance, EPA will not allow the public to be endangered by companies taking advantage of the COVID-19 situation and selling ineffective products,” said EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. “Disinfectants and other pesticide products that are not properly tested and registered can pose a serious risk to public health. EPA is working with public and private partners to ensure that pesticide products imported into, and sold in, the U.S. are safe and effective.”

FIFRA regulations require these types of products to be registered with the EPA before being sold or distributed in the United States. Before registration, the applicant must prove that, when using according to the product’s label instructions, the product “will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment,” which FIFRA defines as:

  • “Any unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of any pesticide”; and
  • “Any human dietary risk from residues that result from use of a pesticide in or on any food inconsistent with the standard under section 408 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.”

Many “unregistered, misbranded, and unproven pesticides and pesticide devices claiming to reduce or eliminate SARS-CoV-2 [are] being offered for sale online,” according to the Agency. The EPA defines a pesticidal device as “an instrument or other machine, including those using UV or UVC light, that is used to destroy, repel, trap or mitigate any pests, including bacteria and viruses.”

The EPA is working closely with the Department of Justice to file charges against those selling fraudulent or unregistered products claiming COVID-19 protection.

“If you are importing or selling unregistered pesticides to the public, we will investigate and hold you accountable,” said Lopez. “In EPA Region 2 alone, we are currently investigating over 80 tips on potentially unregistered and misbranded pesticides for sale online.”

The EPA has created a list of disinfectant products that have shown to be effective in protecting against the virus when used according to the products’ label directions. This list is known as “List N” and allows consumers to search by the EPA registration number found on a product’s label.