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99 Cents Only Stores under fire

GLENDALE — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed a nearly $1 million complaint against 99 Cents Only Stores alleging the company violated a federal act when it sold and distributed two unregistered pesticides in its stores throughout California.

The EPA is asking for $969,930 in civil penalties from the company after it sold the unregistered pesticides — Farmer’s Secret Berry and Produce Cleaner, and Bref Limpieza y Desinfeccion Total — in several of its stores. The complaint also alleged the company sold a misbranded pesticide, PIC Boric Acid Roach Killer II, in its Nevada stores.

The agency couldn’t immediately confirm whether the products had been sold in the Glendale store at 6401 San Fernando Road, but warned residents to keep an eye out for the products.

“In this particular case, the ball’s in their court,” EPA spokeswoman Margot Perez-Sullivan said.

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It was also not clear whether the company has pulled all the products off the shelves, said Pamela Cooper, manager of the EPA’s Pacific Southwest Pesticide Office.

But she warned residents to read product labels.

“Hopefully, this [the complaint] will wake up other stores and people who go to these stores,” she said.

Calls made to the 99 Cents Only Stores corporate office in the City of Commerce were not returned.

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Though Glendale resident Sonia Garcia never buys pesticides from 99 Cents Only Stores, she said she is worried about the unregistered products.

“I always look for the expiration date on things that are sold here, even on the really good stuff,” she said.

She was disappointed that the company had sold misbranded and unregistered products.

“It’s sad that they have to sell us the bad stuff because we’re paying only 99 cents,” Garcia said.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation discovered the products during inspections from 2004 to 2008.

Farmer’s Secret Berry and Produce Cleaner fights fungus, mold and bacteria.

The department discovered the cleaner during a marketplace surveillance in 2005 in a Harbor City store, spokeswoman Lea Brooks said.

The department fined the 99 Cents Only Stores company $845 for offering an unregistered product for sale, she said. The amount of the fine is based on the number of products sold.

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The second product, Bref Limpieza y Desinfeccion Total, a sanitizer and disinfectant, was imported from Mexico.

Burbank resident Gail Turner doesn’t purchase pesticides from the discount store in Glendale. But the misbranding of products makes her think about the spoiled milk she bought once.

“My whole family got sick,” she said.

Turner, who shopped at the Glendale store Thursday, now buys only “junk” there, such as hair clips, she said.

In California, a product must be reviewed to ensure people can safely use it in any setting, Brooks said. The department also evaluates information about the product to make sure it has the proper label.

Products that were not registered have not been tested by the department and could hurt people’s health or the environment, Brooks said.

Under federal law, disinfectants or sanitizers, which are considered pesticides, must be registered with the EPA in order to be sold and distributed in the country.

A company must obtain a license or registration from the EPA to sell the products. The products in the 99 Cents Only complaint were not registered with the EPA.

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In selling and distributing the misbranded and unregistered pesticides, the agency alleged, the discount chain violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

The act regulates the manufacturing, sales and distribution of pesticides.


 VERONICA ROCHA covers public safety and the courts. She may be reached at (818) 67-3232 or by e-mail at veronica.rocha@ latimes.com.


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