Online auction site eBay was accused of selling “hundreds of thousands” of dangerous polluting products, in a lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice on Wednesday.
The complaint alleges that eBay sold 343,000 aftermarket defeat devices, which illegally subvert motor vehicle emission controls in violation of the Clean Air Act. These devices allow gas-powered vehicles to pass emissions tests while continuing to emit noxious chemicals, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and nonmethane hydrocarbons.
The company is also accused of selling or facilitating the sale of 23,000 “unregistered, misbranded or restricted-use pesticide products,” in violation of a stop-sale order issued by the Environmental Protection Agency against eBay in 2020. These products 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.”
eBay is also alleged to have sold over 5,600 products that contain paint or coating with methylene chloride, which can cause illness and death. The US bans the sale of such products under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
The Justice Department and the EPA are seeking to block eBay from selling such products that have been known to endanger public health and harm the environment, the agencies said in a statement.
“Laws that prohibit selling products that can severely harm human health and the environment apply to e-commerce retailers like eBay just as they do to brick-and-mortar stores,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, in a statement. “We are committed to preventing the unlawful sale and distribution of emissions-defeating devices and dangerous chemicals that, if used improperly, can lead to dire consequences for individuals and communities.”
In its defense, eBay said work was already underway to block the sale of dangerous products when the Justice Department filed its lawsuit. The company claimed to have partnered with law enforcement, including DOJ for “over two decades” on preventing harmful items from being sold on its platform.
“We dedicate significant resources, implement state-of-the-art technology and ensure our teams are properly trained to prevent prohibited items from being listed on the marketplace,” the company said in an unsigned statement. “Indeed, eBay is blocking and removing more than 99.9% of the listings for the products cited by the DOJ, including millions of listings each year.”
It added, “The Government’s actions are entirely unprecedented and eBay intends to vigorously defend itself.”
This isn’t the first time eBay has been targeted by a federal lawsuit. Over a decade ago, the DOJ sued the company for illegally colluding with financial software company Intuit by allegedly refusing to hire its employees. The two sides settled the suit in 2014, with eBay agreeing to not enter any anticompetitive hiring agreements for five years.