The US Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Amazon and eBay to stop selling pesticides that falsely claim to kill the novel coronavirus. The order applies to some products the EPA has already declared illegal, like a supposed disinfectant called “Virus Shut Out,” as well as chemicals like methylene chloride, which is hazardous and partially banned in the US. In addition to coronavirus claims, the order applies to inflated safety claims and other false advertising.
The orders are based on consumer tips dating back to 2018, and they follow an earlier EPA settlement with Amazon, which was found to be distributing illegal pesticides. Amazon, eBay, Walmart, and other retailers met with the EPA in April to discuss fraudulent and restricted disinfectant sales, but an agency press release claims “Amazon and eBay have thus far failed to consistently keep unregistered, misbranded, or restricted-use pesticides, and pesticide devices off their websites.” It stops short of issuing fines or other penalties.
At the time of the EPA’s announcement, Virus Shut Out was still listed on eBay (but not Amazon), and methylene chloride was listed on both platforms but without coronavirus-related claims. An Amazon spokesperson told The Verge that the company had systems to “proactively block inaccurate claims about COVID-19,” and had “removed the products in question.” An eBay spokesperson said that “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.”
Several federal agencies and state attorneys general have tried to crack down on fake coronavirus treatments and preventives, including products sold by media figures like radio host Alex Jones and televangelist Jim Bakker. And Amazon has faced particular scrutiny over third-party seller price gouging. The pressure hasn’t all come from governments, either; manufacturer 3M recently sued a third-party seller for selling fake N95 masks.
Update 1:30PM ET: Added statements from Amazon and eBay.