DOJ sues eBay for selling environmentally hazardous products

Vehicle emissions ‘defeat devices’ and illegal pesticides allegedly appeared for sale on the site.

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The US Department of Justice sued eBay on Wednesday for its role in the sale of products that harm the environment. It accused the online retailer of selling or distributing hundreds of thousands of products that violated the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The complaint was filed in a federal court in Brooklyn, NY.

The DOJ’s complaint accuses eBay of selling, offering for sale or causing the sale of over 343,000 aftermarket “defeat devices,” which bypass vehicle emission controls. The devices, familiar to many from Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” scandal, allow vehicles to cheat emissions tests, making them appear up to par on EPA standards when they aren’t — all in the name of a little performance boost.

“Aftermarket defeat devices significantly increase pollution emissions – including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and nonmethane hydrocarbons – that harm public health and impede efforts by the EPA, states, Tribes and local agencies to plan for and attain air quality standards,” the DOJ wrote today.

The complaint says eBay also unlawfully distributed or sold at least 23,000 pesticide products that were unregistered, misbranded or restricted-use. The DOJ says the EPA issued a “stop sale” order in 2020 (amended in 2021), after which eBay continued to violate it. “Examples include a high toxicity insecticide banned in the United States, restricted use pesticides that only certified applicators may apply and products fraudulently claiming to protect users against the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” the DOJ wrote.

The filing adds that eBay distributed over 5,600 products violating the TSCA Methylene Chloride Rule, a banned (potentially deadly) chemical used in paint and coating removers.

In a statement, eBay said it blocks and removes more than 99.9% of listings for products cited by the DOJ. “And eBay has partnered closely with law enforcement, including the DOJ, for over two decades on identifying emerging risks and assisting with prevention and enforcement,” the online retailer wrote. “The Government’s actions are entirely unprecedented and eBay intends to vigorously defend itself.”

The DOJ asserted that EPA standards will be enforced. “Our nation’s environmental laws protect public health and the environment by prohibiting the unlawful sale of defeat devices; unregistered, misbranded and restricted use pesticides; and unsafe products containing toxic chemicals such as methylene chloride,” said David M. Uhlmann from the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The complaint filed today demonstrates that EPA will hold online retailers responsible for the unlawful sale of products on their websites that can harm consumers and the environment.”