In December 2002, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered American Biotech Labs of Alpine, Utah, to stop selling a product advertised online as an "anthrax killer," it was the fifth time in a 12-month period that the agency had ordered an Internet vendor to stop the sale of such a product. There are no registered products that control anthrax, but the recently highlighted risk of bioterrorist attacks has created a tempting marketplace that some online advertisers seek to exploit with unregistered products bearing unproven claims. And thanks to the ubiquity of Internet access, a frightened public has vast opportunities to locate and purchase these goods.
In fact, the problem of illegal Internet pesticide sales is far broader than a few websites selling bogus anti-anthrax products. Concerned by the proliferation of websites making questionable claims about the pesticides they were selling, the EPA and state health officials embarked on a program in early 2001 to identity and stop offending sites. Their purpose is to ensure that pesticide sales comply with the requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). If they find anyone--a company, a person, or an auction site--making unaccepted claims, such as purporting to kill anthrax, the seller may be ordered to stop and may face civil and criminal penalties, including fines, for offering to sell an unregistered pesticide.
The EPA's focus on electronic commerce, or "e-commerce," has grown as Internet sales have increased. About two years ago, a few state pesticide control officials decided to address the proliferation of websites selling chemicals with dubious powers. "There were an alarming number of websites of companies that were selling misbranded pesticides, unregistered pesticides, and restricted chemicals being sold to uncertified applicators," says Tim Creger, a program manager with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. "Everything that our state and federal pesticide programs are designed to regulate was being counteracted on the web." Creger is active in the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO) and began pushing for greater attention to the new regulatory challenges on the Internet. …