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Companies Fined $325,000 for Selling Pesticide to Fight Coronavirus, E.P.A. Says

Two New Jersey-based companies have agreed to pay a total of $325,000 in fines for selling a pesticide that federal officials say was falsely marketed as a disinfectant spray that could help eliminate the coronavirus, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The product, Zoono Microbe Shield, from Zoono USA and Zoono Holdings, was sold online through Amazon and other websites and to community centers and was even purchased by United Airlines during the height of the pandemic to disinfect cabins, the E.P.A. said Wednesday in a statement announcing the settlement.

The E.P.A. said that while reviewing Zoono Microbe Shield’s label, the agency discovered that it was sold with claims about public health that “substantially differed” from what was registered with the agency, which is illegal, and that the claims were “false” and “misleading.”

The move to fine the companies followed a warning from the E.P.A. in 2020 that said retailers selling disinfectants and sanitizers that wrongly claimed protection against the coronavirus would face legal action.

“With settlements like these, E.P.A. is making sure that consumers can safely rely on the claims made for pesticides registered by the E.P.A., while also encouraging regulated entities to come into compliance with critical environmental laws that protect public health,” Lisa F. Garcia, a regional administrator with the E.P.A., said in the statement.

Zoono USA was fined $205,000 and Zoono Holdings $120,000. They share an address in Shrewsbury, N.J., and are subsidiaries of a under New Zealand company, Zoono Group Ltd.

Wayne Herriott, a spokesman for Zoono Holdings, said Thursday that the company bought the distribution rights for Zoono products in the United States in late 2021 from Zoono USA and that the company was “unaware at that time of any misleading claims being made by the distributor or sub distributors.”

“Zoono Holdings takes regulatory responsibilities very seriously and as soon as Zoono Holdings received notification from the E.P.A. that in market advertising claims were under investigation, Zoono Holdings halted all in market sales and worked diligently to remove any misleading claims from the market,” Mr. Herriott said in an email. “Zoono Holdings believes strongly in the efficacy of our products and has a zero-tolerance approach to regulatory noncompliance and continues to monitor this vigilantly.”

Zoono Holdings also worked with the E.P.A. to bring the product in question into compliance so that it is now qualified as a disinfectant effective against the virus that causes Covid-19, Mr. Herriott said.

Efforts to reach officials with Zoono USA on Thursday night were not immediately successful.

The companies are not the first to be held accountable.

And in an unrelated criminal case in June, a New Jersey man pleaded guilty in federal court to selling an unregistered pesticide, wire fraud and presenting false claims. Prosecutors said he illegally sold $2.7 million worth of pesticides that he falsely claimed had been registered with the E.P.A.