Consumer Products Treated with Pesticides
The presence of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi and viruses) in or on various items has become of increased concern to consumers. In response to these concerns, many products (e.g., cutting boards, kitchen sponges, cat litter, toothbrushes and juvenile toys) are being treated with antimicrobial pesticides. Antimicrobial pesticides are substances or mixtures of substances used to destroy or limit the growth of microorganisms, whether bacteria, viruses, or fungi -- many of which are harmful -- on inanimate objects and surfaces.
The term "treated articles" typically refers to items that are treated with an antimicrobial pesticide to protect the item itself. The pesticides are usually added to the products (e.g., plastic shower curtain) during manufacture; however, they may be added after manufacture but before use of the article (e.g., incorporation of a pesticide in paint).
These treated products often claim to protect the public against harmful microorganisms. These fall into a regulatory category of implied or explicit public health pesticidal claims.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires the registration of any substance intended to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate pests. However, the Code of Federal Regulations prescribes the conditions under which an exemption from registration is allowed for treated articles or substances. It allows an exemption for:
An article or a substance treated with or containing a pesticide to protect the article or substance itself (for example, paint treated with a pesticide to protect the paint coating, or wood products treated to protect the wood against insects or fungus infestation), if the pesticide is registered for such use.
EPA grants the treated articles exemption for a non-public-health use of a pesticide that is intended to protect only the treated article or substance itself. Consumers may distinguish such products by the absence of the EPA's pesticide registration number of the registered pesticide used for protecting the article itself. An EPA registration number would be found on the product label. It should be noted that the EPA registration number would also be absent from an illegal product that should be registered. Products that qualify for this exemption must display appropriate clarifying statements. For example:
- Claims for treated articles or substances are limited to statements like, "This product contains a preservative (e.g., fungicide or insecticide) built in or applied as a coating only to protect the product. An example of an acceptable label statement would be:
- Antimicrobial properties are built in to inhibit the growth of bacteria that may affect this product. The antimicrobial properties do not protect users or others against bacteria, viruses, germs, or other disease organisms. Always clean and wash this product thoroughly before and after each use.
- Treated kitchen accessories or other food contact articles such as a cutting board, high chair or conveyor belt that may come in contact with food should carry an appropriately qualifying statement, such as:
- This product does not protect users or others against food-borne bacteria. Always clean and wash this product thoroughly before and after each use.
- Treated products such as bed pans and potty seats that involve potential human contact with bodily fluids or excrement (e.g., blood, vomit, saliva, urine or feces) should carry an appropriate qualifying statement, such as:
- This product does not protect users against bacteria, viruses or other disease organisms. Always clean and wash this product thoroughly before and after each use.
- In addition, it should be noted that:
- The treated articles exemption is available only for the protection of the product and not for public health uses.
- The preservative claim and qualifying statement on the product packaging (type, size, color) must be given no greater prominence than other described product features.
Articles or products that claim to be effective in controlling microorganisms such as E. coli, S. aureus, Salmonella sp. or Streptococcus sp. must be registered as a pesticide. These articles or products make a public health claim that goes beyond the preservation of the treated article itself. EPA requires the submission of chemical data in support of the public health labeling claims and patterns of use of the product.
If EPA determines that such a product is exempt from registration as a pesticide, the product may claim only that it contains a pesticidal preservative to protect the product itself. These pesticides are known as materials preservatives. In these cases, the pesticide is registered for the intended use, and the sole purpose of treatment is to protect the product itself. These pesticides are widely used in the manufacture of textiles, plastics, paper, adhesives and coatings.
Any pesticide-treated product that is not registered by EPA must not make public health claims, such as "fights germs, provides antibacterial protection, or controls fungus." EPA's policy is predicated on the fact that no scientific evidence exists that these products prevent the spread of germs and harmful microorganisms in humans.
FIFRA does not allow companies to make public health pesticidal claims for any product distributed or sold unless the product has been approved and registered by EPA or is covered by an exemption from registration. EPA is concerned about these claims because, in addition to being unlawful, they are also potentially harmful to the public (e.g., if people believe that a product has a self-sanitizing quality, they may become lax in their hygiene practices). Practicing standard hygiene practices has been proven to prevent the transmission of harmful microorganisms and, therefore, reduce the possibility of public health risk.
In response to the marketing of unregistered pesticide-treated products with illegal, unsubstantiated public health claims, EPA has acted quickly and decisively to prohibit sales of such products. It will continue to be the Agency's policy to take action against companies that make such illegal claims.
For More Information
- View or obtain an electronic copy of the guidance document (PR 2000-1).
- Questions On Pesticides? National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) 1-800-858-7378