Justice Department Sues eBay Over Unlawful Sales of Pesticides, Other Products

Yves here. What is striking is not that eBay sold illegal and dangerous products. It’s that the numbers in this Department of Justice suit are so big.

By Shannon Kelleher. Originally published at The New Lede

Online retail giant eBay has been illegally selling hundreds of thousands of harmful pesticides and other unsafe products, posing “unacceptable risks” to communities across the country, according to a complaint filed Wednesday by the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

The legal action was filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in federal court in New York. It argues that the company’s actions violated environmental laws including the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

“The complaint filed today demonstrates that EPA will hold online retailers responsible for the unlawful sale of products on their websites that can harm consumers and the environment,” David Uhlmann, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a press release.

The DOJ and EPA allege that eBay sold at least 23,000 unregistered, misbranded, and restricted use pesticides, including a highly toxic insecticide banned in the US, and products that make false claims about protecting against the virus that causes COVID-19.

This was not eBay’s first alleged FIFRA violation. In June 2020, the EPA ordered eBay, as well as Amazon, to stop selling pesticide-containing products that claimed to prevent COVID-19. The following summer, the agency ordered eBay to stop selling an additional 170 unregistered or misbranded pesticide products.

A team of journalists were able to buy five different pesticides and herbicides illegal in the United Kingdom through eBay’s general and UK websites in 2018, including atrazine, which by law may only be purchased by certified herbicide users in the US.

The DOJ complaint also alleges that eBay sold over 5,600 items such as paints and coating removal products that contain methyl chloride, which presents numerous health risks, including death.

And the DOJ alleges Ebay sold or offered more than 343,000 “aftermarket defeat devices,” which allow drivers to bypass their vehicles’ emissions controls, allowing cars and trucks to emit hundreds to thousands of times more pollution. These harmful nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, non-methane hydrocarbons, and particulate matter low air quality and increase risk for cardiovascular problems and premature death.

Sales of aftermarket defeat devices for diesel trucks after 2009 and before 2020 released more than 570,000 tons of excess nitrogen oxides and 5,000 tons of excess particulate matter into the atmosphere over the trucks’ lifetimes, according to an EPA study.

“The Government’s actions are entirely unprecedented and eBay intends to vigorously defend itself,” the company said in a statement, countering that it has dedicated “significant resources” and uses “state-of-the-art technology” to prevent products that violate environmental laws from being listed on its website.

“Indeed, eBay is blocking and removing more than 99.9% of the listings for the products cited by the DOJ, including millions of listings each year. And eBay has partnered closely with law enforcement, including the DOJ, for over two decades on identifying emerging risks and assisting with prevention and enforcement.”

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  1. Don

    Aw come on, leave well-intentioned, doin’ their best eBay alone — if it wasn’t being so resolute, so careful, so proactive, just think how much more toxic crap it would be unleashing on the world!

    There should be zero tolerance on these matters. They have been profiting from grievously damaging the world for over a decade. A single can of poison ships out the door, shut the whole evil operation down.

    1. Rubicon

      Indeed they ARE very suspect.
      Consider how many GMO products are sold in the US. Via, either Canadian GMO corn or Canadian GMO corn that flows into Mexico. The president there is up in arms about the issue because Corn, REAL Corn has always been a natural staple in that part of the world.

      Now you have to shop at high-priced stores in order to purchase meat or chicken. Even then, you often suspect those goods are not of stirling quality.

      The fact that the Federal regulatory system is after makes us question whether this is a political, or a financial stunt by that System.

      1. steppenwolf fetchit

        If Justice had not brought this suit on behalf of EPA, or any such suit like it, would that be preferable?
        If this ends up suppressing and stopping the sale of these types of things on ebay, should I regret and resent that good outcome because it “may” have been achieved for political purposes?

  2. Flyover Land

    I sell thousands of items a year on Ebay for a living. Many sellers like me don’t know what is allowed and not allowed on Ebay, there is a list but many things are missing. Once in a while I’ll try list something that I didn’t know was prohibited and a bot will automatically warn me and not allow the listing. Also, sometimes I list an item but later Ebay decides it’s not allowed and takes it down. Once a listing is attempted and not allowed OR a listing is taken down Ebay monitors the seller for evasion. A seller can only get around 1-4 strikes and depending on the seriousness of the evasion/type of item they will be suspended or banned. Ebay doesn’t mess around. If you read seller forums people get banned even for comical reasons.

    Also, lately sellers are having items removed due to the new INFORM consumer act. Apparently the law allows large brands to ask Ebay to remove even used items if they “suspect” of being counterfeit. It’s just another impediment to selling used items to encourage more consumption, more purchases of new items. Capitalism loves waste.

    I fear that someday small time sellers won’t be allowed to sell anything anymore. Corporations will ram through more regulations will make selling just about anything impossible. After all, the little people are all suppose to work regular jobs for large corporations, never for themselves. That’s the whole point of Obama Care being made to be so unaffordable.

    1. Don

      It seems to me that you should be concerned about whether what you want to sell is toxic, instead of being concerned about whether eBay will allow you to sell it.

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