MANHATTAN (CN) – State and federal charges have been filed against 12 Chinatown shop owners, who are accused of selling illegal pesticides that could be mistaken for Easter eggs, cookie crumbs, cough medicine and street chalk.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency displayed samples of the colorful and cartoon-animated pesticide packages during a press conference Monday. The items were laid out in the same manner as drugs or guns are displayed after a drug raid.
The 3-day sting operation resulted in the seizure of 6,000 products at 14 places in Manhattan.
One product, whose Chinese name translates as “The Cat Be Unemployed,” is a rodenticide that allegedly poisoned a woman, who called authorities after she became “gravely ill,” then recovered at the hospital.
According to an indictment unsealed Monday, that product contained 61 times the amount of the chemical brodifacoum that the EPA allows.
Another seized rodenticide contained sodium fluoroacetate, which can be used only by trained and certified applicators, for livestock, under federal law.
Two roach baits, produced by Fuzhou Control Termite Co. and MieZhangQing, allegedly resemble a “crumbled, sweet cookie” and contain the insecticide fipronil.
Twelve Chinatown shop owners were arrested in the raids. Ten have been charged in state court, two in Federal Court.
They face up to a year in prison and a $25,000 fine for misdemeanor counts.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said that he hopes legislation will be passed to increase penalties for sale of illegal pesticides.
“When dealing with the sale of potentially fatal products, I believe it’s worth considering whether prosecutors should be able to seek higher penalties based on the quantities and concentration of the pesticides sold,” Vance said at the press conference.
With anti-regulation sentiment a virtual mantra today, Vance defended the role of government in consumer protection, saying he started an environmental crimes unit last year to address such matters.
“The government regulates highly toxic chemicals and pesticides for a very good reason,” Vance said. “They can kill you.”
Officials at the press conference said they had no statistics on how many people have been killed or injured by the products seized.
But Vance cited Centers for Disease Control statistics asserting that 80 people die from unintentional poisoning every day in the United States, and another 1,900 are treated in emergency rooms.
He said that most of the people arrested this time own “mom and pop” stores, and that he hopes they will reveal how the products got into the country and onto store shelves.
“We certainly will be looking upstream,” Vance said.
Judith A. Enck, administrator for the EPA office in Region 2 of New York, said the chemical makeup of many of the products has not yet been discovered.
“They are a toxic mystery,” Enck said.