BROOKLYN (CN) — The United States government sued eBay on Wednesday, accusing the online retail platform of unlawfully selling “aftermarket defeat devices” that allow vehicles to get around internal systems that limit the emissions they produce.
Filing the federal complaint on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. government says eBay also sold dangerous products containing methylene chloride, a banned chemical used for paint or coating removal, and pesticides.
“EBay’s sale of emission control defeat devices, pesticides, and other unsafe products poses unacceptable risks to our communities disproportionately impacted by environmental and health hazards,” Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a press release.
Defeat devices are marketed to enhance a vehicle’s power, improve its fuel economy and reduce operating and maintenance costs. But the products can cause motor vehicles to emit “hundreds of thousands of times more pollution than a motor vehicle with properly functioning emission controls,” the U.S. government says.
According to the complaint, eBay sold at least 39,821 defeat products of various types.
Methylene chloride meanwhile poses a risk to human health. The chemical, often used as a solvent and as a stripping and thinning agent in paint and coating removal products, can cause neurological impairment and has resulted in human fatalities, according to the complaint.
Since retailers are barred from distributing the product, EPA began to investigate its availability on eBay’s website, starting in May 2020. The agency found eBay had distributed 5,614 items containing methylene chloride since 2019. Its investigation is ongoing.
Similarly, EPA has since 2016 tracked listings of “unregistered, misbranded, or restricted use pesticides” on eBay’s website. Despite its efforts to contact eBay regarding the products, EPA says in the complaint, the agency confirmed the pesticides were still being sold as recently as July.
“EPA has identified, by manual review, hundreds of listings on eBay.com that resulted in the sale and distribution of thousands of unregistered, misbranded, or restricted use pesticides,” the complaint says.
The products at issue include “Elector PSP,” used for killing chicken mites; Jantex Multi Surface Sanitiser Cleaner, which isn’t registered with EPA; and “ZP Tracking Powder,” used for killing mice.
“Our nation’s environmental laws protect public health and the environment by prohibiting the unlawful sale of defeat devices; unregistered, misbranded and restricted use pesticides; and unsafe products containing toxic chemicals such as methylene chloride,” David Uhlmann, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a press release.
The complaint also says eBay has encouraged the sale of these products through its algorithms, which suggest “related” products or “similarly sponsored items,” and targeted emails that recommend defeat devices or methylene chloride or encourage buyers to return to their cart when such a product is still in there.
“Laws prohibiting the sale of products that harm human health and the environment apply to e-commerce retailers just as they do to brick-and-mortar stores,” Todd Kim, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division, said in a press release.Follow @NikaSchoonover
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