S.C. Johnson Fined for Illegally Distributing Unsafe Roach Baits

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Erin M. Crotty today announced an agreement that requires one of the nation’s leading consumer products companies to pay $950,000 for illegally distributing a brand of its popular roach bait in New York long after it was ordered off the market.

The settlement with S.C. Johnson involves the company’s “Raid Max Roach Bait Plus Egg Stoppers,” which had been the subject of earlier enforcement actions in 1994 and 1995 by both New York State and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The bait contained the powerful chemical sulfluramid, a reproductive and developmental toxin in humans.

As a condition of approving the chemical roach killer for use in homes, the EPA required that the bait stations be child resistant. According to an EPA assessment, if a child ingested the bait, he or she could suffer irreversible reproductive damage, and boys could be rendered infertile. S.C. Johnson subsequently changed the chemical composition of the bait.

As part of those earlier state and federal actions, the product was recalled and all stocks were to be destroyed. In the Spring of 2000, Spitzer’s office discovered that the bait stations were being sold in a New York City store.

Subsequent investigation traced the product back to S.C. Johnson. In 1996 and 1997, after the product was banned, the company sold the illegal product to a merchandise distributor in Illinois who then sold the product to a merchandise distributor on Long Island, leading to the product being sold in Manhattan. Both distributors specialized in selling obsolete and overstocked merchandise.

“S.C. Johnson has repeatedly failed to comply with its legal obligations under our pesticide laws, and in doing so put the health of children at risk,” said Attorney General Spitzer. “This product was marketed for home use and was labeled as child resistant when it was not. We hope that this action will motivate S.C. Johnson, and others who manufacture and sell pesticides, to ensure that they fully comply with environmental and consumer protection laws.”

DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty said: “S.C. Johnson has repeatedly disregarded public health, the environment, and New YorkÕs environmental laws by continuing to market a pesticide product that was never legally registered for sale in New York and whose lack of child-resistant packaging is potentially harmful to the public, especially small children. TodayÕs settlement sends a clear message to pesticide manufacturers that New York will vigorously enforce our environmental laws to ensure that all pesticides are properly registered with DEC before being distributed, sold or used in this state.”

Attorney General Spitzer noted that once alerted to the problem, S.C. Johnson cooperated with the investigation and was implementing better procedures to help ensure compliance in the future. The company, based in Racine, Wisc., has annual sales of over $4.5 billion and operations in nearly 70 countries.

S.C. Johnson claimed that the sale of the illegal product was an accident. “It is critical that companies dealing with inherently dangerous products such as pesticides take adequate measures to ensure that illegal sales, accidental or not, do not occur,” said Attorney General Spitzer.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Lemuel Srolovic and Jeanna Hussey and Chief Scientist Michael Surgan, Ph.D. of the Environmental Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Peter H. Lehner. The case was handled by Nathaniel Barber for the Department of Environmental Conservation.