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EPA Seeks Largest Ever Civil Penalty for Pesticide Violations by RI Company
(from March 26, 2003)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on March 12 that it is proposing a $1 million penalty against the American Biophysics Corp. (ABC) in East Greenwich, R.I. for failing to properly register a mosquito attractant that was a part of a pesticide product line the company was selling worldwide last year. The civil penalty is the largest ever proposed in New England for pesticide violations. The fine comes at somewhat of a shock to many environmentalists and public health advocates because the product, "Mosquito Magnet," is considered a safer alternative to traditional mosquito spray programs.

The EPA complaint charges the company with nearly 200 counts of selling and distributing an insect attractant, used in its "Mosquito Magnet" insect-control equipment, without securing the required EPA registration number and without using EPA-approved labeling. According to the EPA press release, the insect attractant contained octenol, which can be toxic to humans. Under federal law, the attractant is defined as a pesticide and therefore must be registered by EPA before it can be sold or distributed in the United States.

The "Mosquito Magnet," a machine much like a gas grill, burns propane gas that sends out a plume of carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide attracts mosquitoes, which are then sucked in and killed. One magnet can control adult mosquitoes over an acre of land, though different levels of success have been reported. According to ABC, when the carbon dioxide is combined with an additional attractant, octenol, is irresistible to female mosquitoes (the ones that bite), no-see-ums, biting midges, black flies, and sandflies. Information on Octenol (1-octen-3-ol), provided on the ABC website, states that it "is a naturally occurring by-product that comes from plants and some animals, (pheromone and kairomone) such as oxen and cows, that ingest large amounts of vegetable matter."

The complaint, filed March 10, alleges that ABC produced and sold the attractant from March 2002 to July 2002 without having a valid registration. It also alleges nearly 100 instances where the company mislabeled the "Mosquito Magnet" products by including false or misleading information on the labeling. For example, in many instances labels stated that the pesticide product was "Safe - Not A Pesticide" or was "Environmentally Friendly." Many labels also were marked with an EPA registration number when no such number had been issued by EPA.

"The pesticide registration process is intended to ensure that before a product is sold publicly, the pesticide is found by EPA to be effective and when used in strict compliance with the label directions does not present any unreasonable risks," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "It is unfortunate that this company misled the public by ignoring our nation's pesticide regulations."

Upon discovering the illegal pesticide sales, on July 10, 2002, EPA issued a stop-sale order requiring ABC to cease further sale or distribution of the unregistered and misbranded pesticide products. On July 26, 2002, EPA Headquarters in Washington approved ABC's application to register its octenol and, thereafter, ABC, with proper labeling, resumed the sale of these products.

For more information, contact Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008. For more information on the Mosquito Magnet, see www.mosquitomagnet.com or call American Biophysics Corp. at 877-699-8727. For more information on what's new at EPA and other governmental offices, see http://www.beyondpesticides.org/watchdog/EPA_website.