Dow's False Pesticide Safety Claims Cost it $2M Fine
MICHAEL GORMLEY / AP 16dec03
Dow to pay $2M for making false pesticide safety claims
ALBANY—A subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co. will pay a $2 million court-ordered penalty to the state of New York for illegal safety claims in advertising of its pesticides.
"By misleading consumers about the potential dangers associated with the use of their products, Dow's ads may have endangered human health and the environment by encouraging people to use their products without proper care," New York Attorney General Spitzer said Monday.
Spitzer said the penalty involving the popular Dursban and other pesticides is the largest in the nation's history.
Dow agreed to the $2 million penalty, but admitted no illegal or erroneous advertising, said spokesman Garry Hamlin, adding that the firm decided it would cost more to litigate the case than to pay the penalty.
Dow officials said a 1994 agreement between the company and the state prohibited advertisements touting the safety of its pesticide products.
"The 1994 agreement restricted our ability to support and defend our products," said Guy A. Relford, the company's head of litigation, "even if our statements were true."
For instance, Relford said, the old agreement was interpreted by Spitzer as prohibiting telling people that the federal Environmental Protection Agency had registered one of Dow's products as a reduced risk pesticide.
State Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden in Manhattan issued the consent order that requires the firm to pay the $2 million penalty, prohibits it from making safety claims about its pesticides, and requires it to start a compliance program. That program will include an internal review of all ads and future ads by Dow in New York state and removal of any safety claims. The company will also have to provide training to comply with advertising restrictions.
Spitzer investigated Dow ads from 1995 to this year.
Among the advertised claims cited by Spitzer was: "No significant adverse health effects will likely result from exposures to Dursban even at levels substantially above those expected to occur when applied at label rates."
"Excellent studies conducted by independent scientists have clearly shown that chlorpyrifos, the active ingredient in Dursban, is toxic to the human brain and nervous system and is especially dangerous to the developing brain of infants," said Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Department of Community and Preventative Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
Spitzer said he was surprised $2 million is apparently the largest pesticide penalty.
"I was a bit incredulous and I said go back and check because $2 million does not seem that enormous given the risks and harm that flow from some of these pesticides," Spitzer said. "I think we need to do better."