99¢ Only Stores fined by EPA for sale of illegal pesticides

99 cents only stores fined by epaThe bargain-basement chain 99¢ Only Stores has been hit with a $409,490 fine by the Environmental Protection Agency for selling illegal unregistered and mislabeled pesticides in several household products, the agency announced.

The case against 99¢ Only Stores concerned the sale of three cleaning and pest control products, and the fine levied against the discount chain is the largest contested penalty ever ordered by an EPA judge against a retailer under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

Out of a total of 166 EPA violations, 164 involved the sale of a household cleaner called "Bref Limpieza y Disinfección Total con Densicloro." [Bref Complete Cleaning and Disinfection with Densicloro], which, despite the pesticide claims on the label, is not registered with EPA. The product was imported from Mexico and claimed (in Spanish) that it disinfects or sanitizes surfaces.

The other two illegal products were "Farmer's Secret Berry & Produce Cleaner," an unregistered pesticide, and "PiC BORIC ACID Roach Killer III," which was mislabeled because EPA-approved labels were upside-down or inside out, making them difficult to read.

"All pesticide distributors -- discounters and high-end retailers alike -- must comply with the law," Jared Blumenfeld, EPA's Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said in a statement. "This company's disregard for state and federal law in its business practices has led to a penalty that reflects the seriousness of the violations."

FIFRA is a federal law that regulates the sale, distribution, and use of pesticides, under which companies selling pesticides in the United States must first register them with the EPA. Each producer, seller and distributor must also ensure that the registered pesticide is labeled according to agency requirements.

"Consumers who bring cleaning products into their homes expect them to be safe and effective, with clear labeling that gives them the facts," said Kathy Taylor, Associate Director of the Communities and Ecosystems Division in the EPA's regional office, in a statement. "This penalty should send a deterrent message to retailers that they must comply with the law regulating pesticides."

99¢ Only Stores illegally sold at least 658 bottles of the "Bref" product at stores in California, Arizona and Nevada, the EPA said. The violations were discovered during inspections by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the Nevada Department of Agriculture from 2004 to 2008.

"It is the opinion of this Tribunal that such penalty appropriately reflects the gravity of the violations, including the harm to the FIFRA regulatory program caused thereby, and will serve as a deterrent to [99¢] and other companies committing similar violations in the future," the Judge said in the decision assessing the penalty.

The 99¢ Only Stores chain, which is based in City of Commerce, Calif., operates 273 stores, including 204 in California, 32 in Texas, 25 in Arizona, and 12 in Nevada.

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