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AG Ferguson: PurEnvironment pleads guilty to environmental criminal charges for COVID-related scam

Utah-based company sentenced for false claims that mold inhibitor can kill coronavirus

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that PurEnvironment, a Utah-based mold remediation company, pleaded guilty to environmental crimes charges Ferguson brought regarding the company’s false claims that its products could provide “90+ day protection” against COVID-19. King County Superior Court Judge Gregg H. Hirakawa sentenced the company to a year of probation, ordered to pay a $15,000 fine, and come into compliance with state and federal regulations.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began, the company claimed on its website and in statements to the press that one of its mold-inhibiting pesticides could “completely rid” homes and businesses of COVID-19 and protect against it for 90 days. In reality, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has only approved this pesticide for inhibiting the growth of mold, mildew and odor-causing bacteria. It is not approved for any use against viruses, let alone “90-day protection” against them.

Thankfully, no individuals or businesses are known to have actually hired or paid PurEnvironment for these services.

“Throughout the pandemic, my office has been policing COVID-related scams,” Ferguson said. “False claims undermine recommendations from public health experts and endanger the community. We will hold corporations and individuals that engage in coronavirus-related scams accountable.”

Ferguson filed criminal charges against the company in King County District Court, alleging improper application of a pesticide under the Washington Pesticide Application Act. The company pleaded guilty to this misdemeanor charge, and must pay a $15,000 fine. The company must also comply with Washington state and federal pesticide registration requirements.

The standard fine for a violation of the Washington Pesticide Application Act is $1,000. PurEnvironment faces a much higher fine thanks to the 2019 Corporate Crime Act, sponsored by then-state representative Mike Pellicciotti. Under this law, any corporation found guilty of a crime faces harsher monetary penalties. This legislation amended a Washington law that capped fines for corporate crimes at $10,000, no matter how serious the crime.

The Attorney General’s Office Environmental Protection Division investigated the case with EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division. The EPA Air and Toxics Enforcement Section issued a warning to the company in July to stop its false COVID-19 protection claims. The company continued making these claims on its website for months after it received this warning.

“PurEnvironment knowingly persisted in their false assertions that their pesticide application provided protection against COVID-19,” said Special Agent in Charge Scot Adair of EPA’s criminal investigation program in Washington.  “As this case demonstrates, EPA and its State of Washington law enforcement partners are committed to holding responsible parties accountable for false claims that put entire communities at risk.”

Case background

PurEnvironment is a Utah-based mold remediation company. For its two-step mold removal process, the company uses two pesticides that it brands as “InstaPURE” and “EverPURE.” Since it began operating in Washington in 2018, the company has used these two products without properly registering them for use with the State of Washington.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, PurEnvironment began making claims that its mold-remediation services could “completely rid your home and business’s surfaces of the COVID-19.” The company’s website told consumers that EverPURE, one of its mold-inhibiting products, could protect against COVID-19 for 90 days.

PurEnvironment advertisement

Flyer posted on PurEnvironment’s website stated EverPURE provides “90+ day protection” (captured May 19, 2020)

The products that PurEnvironment branded as EverPURE were never approved to treat any virus, let alone COVID-19. Those pesticides are mold inhibitors, only approved to inhibit the growth of odor- and stain-causing bacteria, mold, mildew and algae. There is no evidence that this anti-mold product can provide protection against viruses for 90 days.

In April 2020, the company reached out to a KIRO-7 news reporter and arranged to provide its “COVID disinfecting services” to a local gym, to be covered in the reporter’s story. The KIRO-7 broadcast covered the disinfecting process and included an interview with PurEnvironment’s co-owner, Brent Allenbach. Allenbach claimed in the interview that EverPURE is antiviral, stating, “there’s a positive charge in there, now bacteria, viruses and mold all have negative charges, so as they come in and land on these surfaces, it will puncture it, denature it and kill it.”

In July 2020, the EPA sent a Notice of Advisement to PurEnvironment that the claims associated with their COVID-19 advertisements were likely false and misleading. At least as recently as December 2020, PurEnvironment still had a page on its website claiming that EverPURE will “protect your surfaces for up to 90 days from all viruses, including COVID-19.”

No individuals or businesses are known to have actually hired PurEnvironment for these services. The gym featured in the KIRO-7 story has refused to pay for the illegal services it received.

The Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case at the request of the King County Prosecutor’s Office. Assistant Attorney General Bradley Roberts led the case for Washington.

Ferguson has made prosecuting environmental crimes a priority of his administration. Since 2013, he has brought environmental prosecutions leading to 36 criminal convictions, including today’s, and restitution orders totaling in excess of $4.9 million.

EPA-approved disinfectants for COVID-19

Under state and federal regulations, commercial pesticide applicators must use registered pesticides in a way that complies with the approved label. The Environmental Protection Agency considers the commercial application of an unregistered pesticide to be a distribution and violation under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. EPA advises consumers who have purchased an unregistered or misbranded pesticide product to safely dispose of it in accordance with local, state and federal laws. This is especially important for consumers seeking to protect against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

EPA recommends that consumers only purchase or use products on the agency’s List N of Disinfectants for Coronavirus (COVID-19). All products on this list are expected to kill SARS-CoV-2 when used according to the label directions. Consumers who hire a commercial applicator to disinfect their home or business should ask to see the label for the disinfectants used to ensure they are both safe and effective.

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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

 

Media Contact:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

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