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EPA Orders Amazon And EBay To Stop Selling Bogus Coronavirus-Fighting Products

A cafe employee in Washington, D.C., cleans in preparation for reopening.
J. Scott Applewhite
A cafe employee in Washington, D.C., cleans in preparation for reopening.

On Thursday, 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.

The orders also bar the e-commerce giants from selling products that contain toxic chemicals like chlorine dioxide and methylene chloride, which is federally regulated as a toxic substance.

Exposure to methylene chloride can cause death, but in one instance, eBay marketed and sold 55-gallon drums of methylene chloride as a coronavirus disinfectant and paint stripper,according to the EPA press release.

Amazon was ordered by the EPA to stop selling over 30 products and eBay, more than 40, some of which falsely claimed to provide "Epidemic Prevention," "2020 Coronavirus Protection" and "complete sterilization including the current pandemic virus," according to an agency press release.

As of Thursday, both eBay and Amazon still had methylene chloride listed on their websites, which is "unapproved for use against the novel coronavirus," the agency stated.

Companies that manufacture and distribute pesticide-containing products are required by law to register the product with the EPA.

Both Amazon and eBay sold unregistered products that were not evaluated by the agency.

According to the EPA's orders, the companies also sold products that were mislabeled or lacked application directions, ingredients, and safety information on chemicals in the products.

The agency said Administrator Andrew Wheeler held discussions with the retailers in April on the illegal products.

"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," the EPA said.

"Amid the coronavirus pandemic, we have taken significant measures to block or quickly remove items from our marketplace that are unsafe, make false health claims or violate our zero-tolerance price gouging policy," eBay said in a statement.

In one case, the EPA said Amazon sold multiple versions of a disinfectant that claimed to sanitize hospitals, offices and homes, that contained chlorine dioxide, a hazardous gas that is linked to respiratory and lung issues. The products didn't contain English-language directions for use, according to the agency.

An Amazon spokesperson told NPR that "Amazon requires that sellers provide accurate information on product detail pages and put processes in place to proactively block inaccurate claims about COVID-19 before they are published to our store."

"We removed the products in question and are taking action against the bad actors who listed them," according to the company, which said it has also developed tools that scan for inaccurate claims.

This is not the first time Amazon has come under fire for such sales; in 2o18 the company paid a $1.2 million dollar penalty for selling mislabeled and banned pesticides.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hannah Hagemann is a 2019 Kroc Fellow. During her fellowship, she will work at NPR's National Desk and Weekend Edition.