Daily News Archive

Dow Receives Largest Pesticide Enforcement Penalty in U.S. History
(Beyond Pesticides, December 16, 2003)
New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced on Monday, December 15 that Dow AgroSciences, LLC, a subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company, will pay a $2 million penalty for illegally advertising safety claims about its pesticide products in New York between 1995 and 2003. This is the largest enforcement penalty ever obtained in a pesticide case.

"Pesticides are toxic substances that should be used with great caution," said Attorney General Spitzer. "By misleading consumers about the potential dangers associated with the use of their products, Dow's ads may have endangered human health and the environment by encouraging people to use their products without proper care." Consumer and public health advocates hailed the settlement.

Edward Groth III, PhD, a senior scientist with Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, said: "Chlorpyrifos (Dursban) was one of the most highly toxic active ingredients used in home pesticides. Dow's exaggerated safety claims for this very toxic chemical, cited in the Attorney General's lawsuit, were simply outrageous. Consumers should thank Eliot Spitzer for putting a stop to such gross corporate deception."

Dr. Philip Landrigan, chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai Medial Center, said: "Excellent studies conducted by independent scientists have clearly shown that chlorpyrifos, the active ingredient in Dursban, is toxic to the human brain and nervous system and is especially dangerous to the developing brain of infants. I applaud the actions of Attorney General Spitzer to stop these misleading and potentially dangerous safety claims." For more information about hazards associated with chlorpyrifos, see Beyond Pesticides’ ChemWatch fact sheet.

Spitzer sued Dow for repeatedly violating a 1994 agreement with New York State prohibiting advertising touting the safety of its pesticide products. As part of the 1994 agreement, the company agreed to stop making claims that its products were "safe." However, an investigation by Spitzer's office found that almost immediately after the company entered into the agreement it once again began to make misleading safety claims in its print, video and internet advertising.

Pursuant to a Consent Judgment signed December 12 by Judge Joan Madden in Manhattan Supreme Court, Dow is required to pay a $2 million penalty, is barred from making safety claims about its pesticide products, and is required to implement a compliance program consisting of the following components:

  • A complete internal review of all advertisements being published by Dow or its agents in New York State and removal of any advertisement that makes safety claims about pesticide products;
  • The appointment of an attorney working under the company's Director of Ethics and Compliance who will be responsible for reviewing and approving all advertising. No advertisement will be published in New York State unless it has first been reviewed by the appointed attorney; and,
  • A training program regarding federal and state law and the consent judgment for all employees and advertising agency personnel involved in creating or reviewing advertisements.

An investigation in the early 1990s by the Attorney General Office found that Dow engaged in false and misleading advertising that violated both state and federal laws. In exchange for not paying fines for its illegal advertising claims, Dow signed an agreement with the state in 1994 in which it pledged to reform its advertising and marketing practices.

The Attorney General's investigation revealed that, after the 1994 agreement, Dow continued to illegally advertise the safety of chlorpyrifos and other pesticides. The investigation centered on Dow's advertising of the Dursban™ pesticide product line, which contains chlorpyrifos, a synthetic chemical compound that has been linked to severe health problems in humans, including poisoning, nerve damage and birth defects. The federal Environmental Protection Agency, specifically citing health risks to children, took action in 2000 to prohibit most household uses of chlorpyrifos.

As recently as March, 2003, Dow's internet site included the statement: "Consumer exposure from labeled use of chlorpyrifos products provides wide margins of safety for both adults and children." In contrast, Dow's safety data sheet for Durban TC™ (chlorpyrifos) states that excessive vapor concentrations are attainable and could be hazardous on single exposure."

See NY Attorney General’s website for a more complete list of false and misleading safety claims made by Dow, or call (518) 473-5525 for more information. The matter was handled in the Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau by Assistant Attorney General Philip Bein, Affirmative Litigation Chief Lemuel Srolovic, and Chief Scientist Michael Surgan.