DPR Keeping an Eye on "Anti-microbial" Product Claims

April, 2016

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DPR Environmental Scientist Saiful Chowdhury inspects products at a Sacramento area grocery to see if they are registered

Unbeknownst to many California consumers, stores, markets and websites are awash with products that make unsubstantiated "anti-microbial" product claims. These include a large assortment of "anti-bacterial" or "anti-mildew" items like pillows, shirts, socks, shower curtains and rugs.

"It's like an epidemic," said Polly Frenkel, DPR's lead legal counsel. "Companies are making these claims on a huge range of products being sold to consumers. They are claiming to be pesticides and there is no proof that these products work or that they are safe."

The manufacturers may, at best, mislead consumers into buying items that have not been proven effective. In the worst case, they can put people in harm's way because their products have not passed rigorous safety and efficacy studies that are the core of the state's pesticide registration laws.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is also increasingly finding clothing items making insect-repellant claims: everything from shirts to shorts, and even blankets.

Every year DPR's scientists visit about 250 locations throughout the state, including general-merchandise, grocery, hardware and sporting goods stores. As a result, DPR attorneys review more than 100 cases annually. Fines have ranged from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands, depending on sales volume.

Total settlements for unregistered or misbranded products – many consisting of consumer products like anti-microbials, as well as untested cleaning, insect-repellant and home-and-garden pesticides products – amounted to $2.5 million in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

KUHL shirts

A few recent cases of unregistered products caught by DPR's inspectors:

  • Shirts: In March, outdoor clothing manufacturer Alfwear Inc., of Salt Lake City, agreed to pay the state $97,214 for failing to register pesticide-impregnated clothing that made unsubstantiated claims that consumers would be protected from bacteria and microbes. The items, mostly shirts sold under the brand name "KÜHL," were discovered during a routine inspection of a Sacramento outdoor-clothing store. In addition to paying a fine, the company voluntarily pulled its mislabeled items from store shelves and changed the items' labeling to comply with California law.
  • Rubber gloves: July 17, 2015, Northern California grocery chain Raley's settled with the state for $101,826 over claims made on packages of store-brand rubber cleaning gloves. The gloves' boxes claimed they contained an "anti-bacterial formulation" but the company later admitted that there was no active anti-microbial chemical. Raley's said the gloves prevented bacteria from sticking to the glove's surface or passing through the glove to a person's hands. The company agreed to, in the future, make sure such products follow the state's pesticide labeling laws.
  • Shower rugs: Oct. 1, 2014, New Jersey-based Tri-Star Products agreed to settle for $107,329 with the state for claims about anti-bacterial ankle sleeves and anti-microbial shower rugs. The latter product, Aqua Rug, was found by a DPR inspector at a Dollar General store in Modesto. The product made claims of having "anti-microbial polyfibers" and mildew and stain resistance. DPR said this misleads consumers by making an unfounded public health claim. After DPR contacted Tri-Star about the rug, the company self-reported and corrected similar anti-microbial claims made about the ankle-support sleeves and other compression and athletic garments.
KUHL shoe sole
  • Underwear and bedding: July 11, 2014, Sears Holding Management Co. admitted to selling thermal underwear and bedding products – including "Cannon" memory foam pillows and mattress toppers – at Kmart stores. The underwear packages claimed the "fibers contain silver ions which help prevent the growth of odor-causing bacteria," while the memory foam products claimed to have "built-in hypoallergenic properties (that) provide lasting freshness and protect against known allergens such as mold, mildew, fungus, and dust mites." The DPR determined the chemical-impregnated items were unregistered pesticides and Sears Holdings settled for $171,833.
  • ACE supports: July 24, 2013, 3M paid $91,192 for failing to register "anti-microbial" ACE-brand knee, ankle, back and wrist supports.
  • Socks: Dec. 5, 2013, Argon Inc. paid $204,954 for failing to register various anti-microbial brands of Adidas socks, sold under the labels Adidas Costco, Barricade and AdiZero.

You can find more listings and fines related to sales of unregistered or misbranded pesticides here.

For content questions, contact:
Craig Cassidy
Public Information Officer I
DPR Office of Communications
1001 I Street, P.O. Box 4015
Sacramento, CA 95812-4015
Phone: (916) 445-5815
E-mail: Craig.Cassidy@cdpr.ca.gov