This article comes to us courtesy of California Watch.
About two months after the state's environmental agency ordered a major pet products retailer to immediately cease selling unregistered pesticide products, many of those products remain on the retailer's shelves and website.
"It's illegal to sell a product that makes pesticidal claims in California unless it has been registered by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Pesticide Regulation," said Lea Brooks, a spokeswoman for California's Environmental Protection Agency and its Department of Pesticide Regulation.
In September, the pesticide department fined Phoenix-based PetSmart nearly $400,000 for selling 33 unregistered pesticide products [PDF] to California consumers. The products ranged from dog and cat shampoos to reptile cage liners. Once a product is registered, the state can evaluate it for toxins, which could be transferred from animals to humans.
The state's requirement applies to retailers, not product manufacturers. According to Brooks, the retailer is responsible for the products it sells on its shelves.
If a manufacturer is making pesticidal clams, the product must be registered with the state and federal government, or the pesticidal claim must be removed from the labeling, which includes marketing material, Brooks said.
Brooks said her agency files hundreds of cases against retailers annually. In one case, Pet Food Express was fined nearly $250,000 in April for selling nine unregistered pesticide products.
A spokesman for PetSmart, Andrew Izquierdo, said his company settled with the state as a result of a "good faith" mistake, and PetSmart was working to comply with the state's demands.
PetSmart and the product manufacturers have filed new labels and registrations with the state for 21 of the items, Brooks said.
However, nothing has been submitted for 12 of the products, nine of which were spotted last week by California Watch on PetSmart shelves in Mountain View and San Carlos. Eleven of the products also are being sold online through PetSmart's website. Items included odor sprays and pet shampoos.
Izquierdo said PetSmart is working with its vendors to get additional information about the 12 unregistered products.
According to PetSmart's settlement with the state, the company agreed not to "sell or deliver into or within California" or on the Internet the products cited in the settlement "unless the department first registers the products." The settlement also states that the government may take legal action if it discovers the company is violating the agreement.
Brooks said the state had planned to follow up with PetSmart to make sure the retailer was complying, but in light of California Watch's finding, "we will move up our schedule."
"PetSmart, as a retailer, is responsible for ensuring the products it sells are in compliance with California's laws and regulations," Brooks said.
The unregistered items still being sold are unlikely to be harmful, Brooks said, but because the products have labels making claims suggesting that they can kill pests and have not been evaluated for pesticides by the state or federal government, they are illegal.
For example, Nature's Miracle Just for Cats Advanced Stain and Odor Remover claims it "deeply cleans to remove all pet mess traces, discouraging the growth of bacteria and germs."
Anti-bacterial and germ claims are considered pesticidal claims.
Or in the case of Whisker City Anti-Hairball Shampoo, the label claims it provides "lasting protection against mosquitoes and other biting insects." Whisker City subsequently has registered its product with the state and changed the language on its label. The state has determined it does not contain a pesticide.
Brooks said that although a product eventually may prove to be safe, "unregistered products making pesticide claims have not been analyzed by DPR for efficacy and potential risks to humans or pets" and therefore could pose a risk.
One of the 12 items that have not been registered with the state, Zodiac's 1000 Premise Spray, was not found on the store's shelves during a recent visit and is no longer available online. It is not clear whether the product contains harmful chemicals.
However, the spray can be found on other online retailers' websites, including Amazon.com and Wag.com.
The state's settlement indicates that two unregistered products from the original list of 33 contained pesticides. Those products, Sentry Fiproguard for Cats and Sentry Fiproguard Plus for Cats, have since been registered with both the federal and state environmental agencies. They are spot-on applications used to treat cats for fleas and ticks and contain the pesticide fipronil, which is an insect neurotoxin.
Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council who follows the pet industry and pesticides, said retailers such as PetSmart have a moral obligation to sell products that are registered and deemed safe not just for pets, but for families.
"You see how children interact with their pets," she said, "and you realize these chemicals are going to get all over them, too."
Susanne Rust is an investigative reporter for California Watch, a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. Find more California Watch stories here.