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Friday, September 25, 2009

North Face Admits It Overstated Shoe Protection As Outdoor Industry Trade Publication Slams EPA On Overly Aggressive Prosecution

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 6:20 PM

nortshoe_thumb_300x272.jpg
Fine. So they don't kill bacteria.
When we first learned that the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was suing The North Face parent company, VF Outdoor Inc., for supposedly making false claims about their shoes preventing bacteria, it sounded a little strange.

The EPA seemed to be suggesting there might be something unsafe about the shoes, which it called "unregistered pesticides," but it turns out that everything about the shoe, and its bacteria-inhibiting insert, was registered with the EPA. The only problem was an overstatement in VF Outdoor Inc.'s marketing materials (which resulted in the EPA reclassifying the shoes as "unregistered pesticides").

The North Face was claiming that an AgION antigmicrobial silver agent in the shoe would inhibit the grown of disease-causing bacteria. Although it's unclear how this is an overstatement (AgION is registered with the EPA as a pesticide), it apparently is, and the EPA is apparently going after VF Outdoor for a cool million, even though it has gone soft on similiar, relatively insignificant violations in the past.

An article published in SNEWS, an online news source for the outdoor and fitness industries published a recent story revealing that last year, the same EPA office in San Francisco that is suing VF Outdoor Inc. apparently fined Thermwell Products just $5,200 for the same violation -- "selling an unregistered product with labels that claimed the product eliminated bacteria."

The story doesn't mention how many items Thermwell Products was selling that were "unregistered pesticides," But in the case of VF Outdoor Inc., about 27 styles of footwear were in violation, company president Steve Rendle told SNEWS. When SNEWS asked the EPA how it arrived at 70 products in violation rather than 27, the EPA explained that it counted men's, women's, and children's and all colors in each style.

Why is the EPA going after VF Outdoor Inc. for so much money? SNEWS (a publication that admittedly seemed a bit hostile toward the EPA) has a few ideas. "Perhaps it had to do with the fact that a new president was inaugurated in 2008 and the EPA is now marching to new orders to be more aggressive in going after violations? Or perhaps it has to do with, and we know this is a cynical view, the mounting budget deficit? Either way, $1 million seems a bit out there."

Not that I have a soft spot for The North Face or anything (people who wear their clothing usually bother me in one way or another), but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's a longshot that anybody really bought the shoes because of their bacteria-killing powers, then became infected as a result of not using some better product.

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Ashley Harrell

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