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Two New Jersey companies fined for selling pesticides as COVID-19 killers

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Regulators have fined two New Jersey companies a total of $325,000 over false claims that a pesticide spray can prevent COVID-19.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced a settlement with two companies that make Zoono Microbe Shield, a pesticide spray. The spray was sold with "false and misleading claims" and with statements that "substantially differed" from those the companies gave the EPA, the agency said.

Consumers likely bought the spray "with the false expectations that it could be used as a sanitizer or disinfectant to prevent SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19," according to the agency.

According to the EPA, the product is effective against odor-causing or staining bacteria, fungi and algae, but cannot be labeled as a disinfectant or sanitizer, nor include any public health claims.

Zoono USA will pay a $205,000 penalty and Zoono Holdings will pay $120,000, the EPA said.

Both companies are subsidiaries of New Zealand-based Zoono Group Limited, a biotech company founded in 2009. 

A spokesman for Zoono Holdings, Wayne Herriott, said the company purchased the distribution rights from Zoono USA late last year, and that at the time, it "was unaware of any misleading claims being made by Zoono USA or its sub distributors."

Herriott said that Zoono paused sales while it was under investigation and "worked diligently to remove any misleading claims from the market." 

Zoono Microbe Shield was sold across many websites, including Amazon, the EPA said. In 2020, United Airlines said it was using the spray to add "an extra level of protection" to aircraft as the airline tried to persuade the public it was safe to fly.

The antibacterial maker received a major boost from the COVID-19 pandemic, which "effectively launched Zoono as a global brand," the company said in its 2021 annual report. Zoono's global sales soared from about $2 million NZ in 2019 to $27 million last year.

The EPA has previously penalized other companies falsely claiming that their products offer COVID-19 protection, as well as arrested Americans for selling fake remedies against the virus.

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