EPA Announces the Issuance of an Advisory on UV Lights That Claim to Kill or Be Effective against Viruses and Bacteria
By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and Barbara A. Christianson
On October 30, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) announced that it issued a Compliance Advisory on ultraviolet (UV) lights claiming to kill or be effective against viruses and bacteria.
EPA states that the Advisory was issued to provide an explanation to the UV light industry that UV lights are regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) as pesticide devices when sold or distributed with claims to kill or be otherwise effective against viruses and/or bacteria, unless an exception applies, and must comply with certain statutory and regulatory requirements. This is the second Compliance Advisory issued by EPA relating to UV light devices, as an Advisory issued in May 2020 entitled “What You Need to Know Regarding Products Making Claims to Kill the Coronavirus Causing COVID-19” also addressed in part whether UV light devices could make claims against the coronavirus.
The Advisory reiterates that UV lights sold or distributed with claims that the lights can be used for preventing, destroying, repelling, trapping, or mitigating any pests, which include plants, animals, viruses, bacteria, or other micro-organisms, are regulated by EPA under FIFRA as a device. UV lights without such claims would not be subject to FIFRA. According to the Advisory, pesticidal devices are subject to certain regulatory requirements under FIFRA, one of which is a prohibition of false or misleading labeling claims.
The Advisory answers the following questions:
How do I comply with FIFRA if I am selling or distributing a UV light with pesticidal claims?
- Devices do not need to be registered by EPA and, therefore, are not subject to a pre-market review by EPA (although some states require devices to be registered). However, federal regulations require devices to be produced in an EPA-registered pesticide producing establishment and there are production reporting requirements; see 40 C.F.R Part 167.
- Devices must be labeled per federal regulations at 40 C.F.R Part 156. Generally, device labels must include warning and caution statements, directions for use and the EPA establishment number, amongst other label requirements. A description of device label requirements can be found at https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/pesticide-registration-manual-chapter-13-devices#labeling.
- All claims in connection with the sale or distribution of a device must be true and not misleading. FIFRA Section 12(a)(1)(F) specifically prohibits false or misleading labeling (known as misbranding); this includes claims made in marketing materials and on websites. Examples of misbranding are provided at 40 C.F.R 156.10(a)(5) and include, but are not limited to, false or misleading statements concerning product effectiveness (known as efficacy), claims about product safety, false or misleading comparisons with other pesticides or devices, or any statement directly or indirectly implying that the device is recommended or endorsed by any agency of the Federal Government. Companies are advised to maintain records, with information and data, to substantiate that claims made in regard to devices are not false or misleading.
In addition to FIFRA requirements, importers of all FIFRA-regulated devices must comply with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regulations set forth at 19 C.F.R. §§ 12.110 -12.117. Regulated entities that are importing UV pesticide devices are advised that the products being imported must be in compliance with FIFRA prior to entry into the United States. The EPA regularly coordinates with CBP to identify and reject violative UV pesticide devices at the port of entry.
Can a UV light be a pesticide requiring EPA registration?
Yes. If the UV light product incorporates a substance or mixture of substances to perform its intended pesticidal purpose, then it is considered a pesticide product, not a device, and must be registered with EPA in accordance with FIFRA Section 3 before it can be lawfully sold or distributed in the United States.
Are UV lights safe and effective?
Unlike chemical pesticides, EPA does not routinely review the safety or efficacy of UV light devices and, therefore, EPA has not conducted a human health risk assessment to determine the safety of these products. For the same reason, EPA cannot confirm whether, or under what circumstances, UV light devices might be effective against any pest, including viruses and bacteria. The effectiveness of any UV light device will depend on a variety of factors including, but not limited to, the device’s duration of use, distance of the light from the surface intended to be treated, the UV wavelength, the specific pest being targeted, the strength or wattage of the UV light bulb, the age of the UV light bulb, shadow areas or other factors.
Consumers are advised to use all pesticidal devices ONLY in accordance with the Directions for Use, which are required to appear on the product label. EPA recommends that consumers contact the manufacturer or seller of the pesticidal device directly if they have any questions about how to use the product, the product’s safety, or the product’s efficacy.
What are the compliance concerns related to UV lights?
There may be members of the UV light industry who are unfamiliar with FIFRA and may not be aware of statutory and regulatory requirements. For example, they may be unaware that it is a violation of FIFRA to sell or distribute pesticidal UV light devices that are misbranded or that have not been produced in an EPA-registered establishment. EPA has been receiving complaints that UV light devices may be in violation of FIFRA. These complaints are being reviewed and EPA intends to pursue enforcement, as appropriate. See EPA’s May 2020 compliance advisory on products making claims to kill the coronavirus that causes COVID 19 at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-05/documents/cornavirus-compliance-advisory.pdf and any subsequent updates.
Regulated entities of any size who voluntarily discover, promptly disclose, expeditiously correct, and take steps to prevent recurrence of potential violations may be eligible for a reduction or elimination of any civil penalties that otherwise might apply. To learn more about the EPA’s violation disclosure policies, including conditions for eligibility, please review EPA’s Audit Policy website at https://www.epa.gov/compliance/epas-audit-policy. Most violations can be disclosed and processed via EPA’s automated online “eDisclosure” system - https://www.epa.gov/compliance/epas-edisclosure. Many states also offer incentives for self-policing; please check with the appropriate state agency for more information.
Are you unsure if your product is a device under FIFRA?
EPA has developed a guide concerning pesticide devices that explains what a pesticide device is and how it differs from a pesticide product which requires registration. This guide may be helpful to UV light manufacturers who need to determine if their product is regulated by FIFRA.See https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/pesticide-devices-guide-consumers. If you are still uncertain about whether your UV light product is a device, you may submit a request for a Device Determination from EPA. Instructions for submitting a request can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/pesticide-registration-manual-chapter-13-devices#obtain.
UV light devices are a heightened focus of EPA, whose import and enforcement officials have been reviewing materials (e.g., import documents, websites) related to devices and increasingly bringing enforcement actions against companies for FIFRA violations. These actions can address circumstances when a pesticide device is not produced in a registered establishment or when the label does not include certain requirement elements, but more recently EPA seems particularly interested in the claims that are being made with regard to these devices and whether those claims are “false and misleading” under EPA’s regulations.
Ensuring that claims related to the efficacy of the device are not considered by EPA to be “false and misleading” can be especially difficult based on the facts that EPA does not review and approve data that support the claims being made, and also that EPA has not historically provided guidance as to the type of data that it would require to support an efficacy claim for a pesticide device. This Advisory is interesting to the extent that EPA sets forth various factors to be considered when determining the effectiveness of a UV light device. These factors include, but are not limited to “the device’s duration of use, distance of the light from the surface intended to be treated, the UV wavelength, the specific pest being targeted, the strength or wattage of the UV light bulb, the age of the UV light bulb, shadow areas or other factors.” The May 2020 Advisory further states that “UV lights and other pesticide devices may not be able to make claims against coronavirus where devices have not been tested for efficacy or safety for use against the virus causing COVID-19 or harder-to-kill viruses.” (Emphasis in original.) In light of the two advisories, it is critical for pesticide device producers to review carefully the data supporting the claims made for their devices to ensure that they comply with the regulatory requirements under FIFRA.