The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reportedly now told Amazon, eBay to stop violating the law by allowing sales of fake COVID-19 products. Specifically, the companies have been ordered to stop selling or distributing around 70 products. Those include products from across an array of categories from disinfectant sprays and lanyards to tablets containing chlorine dioxide. Amazingly, some brands of paint strippers have even been listed in the order.
The issue at hand, the EPA says, is that some of those products being sold by Amazon and eBay claim to be useful for "preventing epidemics” such as COVID-19. In each case, however, the products are falsely marked as antidotes or solutions to COVID-19 directly.
What law is Amazon and eBay breaking by selling fake COVID-19 solutions?
The law that Amazon and eBay appear to be breaking stems from the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Under its rules, it has been deemed illegal to sell or distribute unregistered or misbranded “pesticides.” Pesticides, as defined by the Act, has a fairly loose definition. In fact, the classification includes substances intended to destroy bacteria and other microorganisms. It's also illegal for restricted-use substances to be sold or distributed to people who aren't certified to handle those chemicals.
In some cases, such as with the chlorine dioxide tablets, the products may even be harmful. As per Wikipedia, chlorine dioxide is identified by the EPA as being safe in doses as high as 0.8 mg. That's a dosage that's dependant on its dissolution in a liter of drinking water. Consumption of solutions containing the toxic substance can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe dehydration. It is absolutely not recommended for consumption.
The associate deputy administrator of the EPA, Doug Benevento, has said that the companies have a legal obligation to consumers to ensure those types of products aren't on their sites. That's because, even though they are being sold by third-party vendors, the products are potentially dangerous. Especially billed as solutions to a dangerous disease. Moreover, eBay and Amazon have been targetted explicitly as the most effective way to stop widespread sales of the products directly.
What consequences could the companies face?
Now, Amazon may actually be at greater risk for repercussions if it fails to comply with this stop-sales notice. For eBay, this represents the first time it has been ordered to halt sales of a product. Amazon has been notified as many as four times in the past five years. Conversely, if both companies fail to comply, the EPA may take immediate action on both — given the deadly nature of coronavirus.
Stacking atop that trend, Amazon is also currently facing a lawsuit for its treatment of workers and the handling of potential outbreaks during the pandemic. The case is not directly related. But, given its connection to the issues at hand here, the pending case could potentially cause the EPA to respond more harshly.
The EPA has quite a lot of legal heft here in terms of penalties too. The civil penalties for this particular offense run as high as $20,288. That's a per sale figure. So, given the breadth of products covered by the order, the companies could potentially face fines approaching billions of dollars.