With demand for disinfectants heightened during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the EPA has committed to strictly enforcing the registration requirements for pesticide disinfectant products. In a recent example, the agency seized an illegal shipment of unregistered disinfectant products at two California airports. EPA also warned several prominent technology companies that unscrupulous dealers were using their platforms to sell unregistered and fraudulent disinfectant products.
Products claiming to kill or repel viruses must be registered as pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). This registration requirement covers all disinfectant products claiming to be effective against the COVID-19 coronavirus.
For a pesticide disinfectant product to be approved (and registered) under FIFRA, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must find that it does not pose an unreasonable risk to human health when used according to label directions. FIFRA registration is necessary before sellers can make public health claims about a pesticide disinfectant product.
Given the increased demand for pesticide disinfectant products during the COVID-19 pandemic, EPA recently highlighted its authority to prevent the sale and distribution of unregistered disinfectants making claims of efficacy against the COVID-19 coronavirus. EPA further explained that it screens products intended for import into the United States, and can take enforcement action—typically through stop-sale orders and/or penalty actions—under FIFRA Sections 13 and 14.
On April 23, EPA and the US Customs and Border Protection seized numerous shipments of unregistered disinfectant products at major California airports. These illegal shipments included a product sold as “Virus Shut Out,” which was not registered with EPA under FIFRA or evaluated for safety and efficacy. In addition, the “Virus Shut Out” product did not feature English-language label directions, as required by US law.
The “Virus Shut Out” seizure was the result of EPA’s increased monitoring of unregistered disinfectant products featuring improper pesticidal claims. As EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated, EPA is taking action “to prevent dishonest actors from selling fraudulent and illegal items that do nothing to protect American’s [sic] from the coronavirus.” To date, EPA reports that more than 7,800 illegal products have been seized.
Along with increased monitoring, EPA intends to increase coordination with the online marketplaces where unregistered disinfectant products are sold. On April 23, for example, EPA contacted eight online marketplaces to request that they remove unregistered disinfectant products from their platforms.
“Today, we are advising eight companies to take action against these dishonest dealers and immediately take these illegal products off of their sites,” Administrator Wheeler said. The action follows earlier meetings between EPA and online marketplaces where the agency requested “help in preventing these impostor [pesticide disinfectant] products from coming to market.”
EPA vowed to continue collaborating with these entities to prevent potentially dangerous products like “Virus Shut Out” from reaching the public.
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If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:
Ella Foley Gannon
 EPA may also take enforcement action under FIFRA to prevent the sale or distribution of: (1) disinfectants with false or misleading labeling; and (2) registered pesticides that may not make COVID-19 coronavirus-related public health claims under the terms of their registrations.