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“The North Face” Parent Company, “Saniguard” Marketers, and Califone Fined More Than $500,000 Over Antimicrobial Claims

Release Date: 05/06/2010
Contact Information: Nahal Mogharabi, 415-947-4307, mogharabi.nahal@epa.gov

(SAN FRANCISCO--5/6/10) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that three California companies and one New Jersey firm will pay more than $500,000 to resolve cases involving unsubstantiated antimicrobial claims for commonly used products such as shoes, headphones and bathroom fixtures.

“EPA will take decisive action against companies making unverified public health claims,” said Jared Blumenfeld, Regional Administrator of EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “Unless these products are registered with EPA, consumers have little or no information about whether their claims are accurate.”

San Leandro, Calif.-based VF Outdoor, Inc., will pay $207,500 for allegedly making unsubstantiated public health claims such as providing “antimicrobial protection” and inhibiting the growth of “disease-causing bacteria” for more than 60 shoe products it sold – a violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The products were sold under The North Face label by VF Outdoor. Products discovered online and evidence found at a North Face retail store in San Francisco led EPA to issue a complaint against VF Outdoor in 2009.

EPA also recently fined Califone International, Inc., of San Fernando, Calif., $220,000 over unproven health claims for headphones. Califone, a designer and distributor of audiovisual equipment used in schools and other institutions, allegedly sold headphones claiming “to prevent the spread of bacteria, mold and mildew for student protection.”

Additionally, EPA fined Component Hardware Group, Inc., of Lakewood, N.J., and John S. Dull Associates, Inc. (d/b/a Food Service Parts in Garden Grove, Calif.), $98,300 following an inspection conducted by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. The inspection revealed evidence that the companies were selling and distributing Saniguard products with unverified claims that they control growth of bacteria and contain antimicrobial technology that controls growth of E. coli, salmonella, staph, and pseudomonas on treated surfaces. The Saniguard products allegedly marketed to hospitals and other industries include faucets, spigots, handles, light switch and socket covers, door push and pull plates, and food service hardware.

EPA’s authority to assess penalties in these settlements stems from FIFRA, which requires that companies register pesticide products with EPA before making claims about their ability to control germs or pathogens. While the North Face, Califone, and Saniguard products all incorporated EPA-registered silver-based antimicrobial compounds to protect them against deterioration, they were never tested or registered to protect consumers against bacteria, fungus, mold, and/or mildew.

“We’re seeing more and more consumer products making a wide variety of antimicrobial claims,” said Katherine Taylor, associate director of the Communities and Ecosystems Division in EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “Whether they involve shoes, headphones, or household fixtures, EPA takes these unsubstantiated public health claims very seriously.”

Under FIFRA, products that claim to kill or repel bacteria or germs are considered pesticides, and must be registered with the EPA prior to distribution or sale. The Agency will not register a pesticide until it has been tested to show that it will not pose an unreasonable risk when used according to the label directions. Consumers should be careful to look for the EPA registration number printed on product labels, and need to follow the label directions for use.

Fact sheet on consumer products treated with pesticides: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/treatart.htm

Guidance for businesses on treated articles: http://www.epa.gov/PR_Notices/pr2000-1.pdf

For more information on pesticides, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides

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