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Retailer hit with record fine for sale of pesticides

A federal judge has ordered City of Commerce, Calif.-based 99? Only Stores to pay $409,490 in penalties for the sale of illegal unregistered and misbranded pesticides contained in household products. The fine is the largest contested penalty ever ordered by an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrative law judge against a product retailer under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, according to the EPA.

The case against 99? Only Stores concerned the sale of three cleaning and pest control products. Out of a total of 166 violations, 164 involved the sale of a household cleaner called “Bref Limpieza y Disinfeccion Total con Densicloro” (Bref Complete Cleaning and Disinfection with Bleach), which was not registered with the EPA, despite pesticidal claims on the label. The product was imported from Mexico and made statements in Spanish that it disinfects or sanitizes surfaces.

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

“All pesticide distributors -- discounters and high-end retailers alike -- must comply with the law. 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,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest.

FIFRA is a federal law that regulates the sale, distribution and use of pesticides. Before selling a pesticide in the United States, companies must register it 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. "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 violations were discovered during multiple inspections by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the Nevada Department of Agriculture from 2004 to 2008, according to the EPA.

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