Is misuse of Pine-Sol a federal crime?

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Dear Cecil: Why does the label on a bottle of Pine-Sol say, “It is a violation of federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling”? Exactly what uses are unlawful? We’d hate to be sent up the river on a Pine-Sol rap. Hank Keedy and James Nielock, Chicago

Cecil replies:

Don’t laugh, boys, it could happen. Disinfectants are legally classified as pesticides, which are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. A warning is required on the labels of all such products, regardless of their potential threat to the biota. Strictly speaking, the EPA could nab you if you used too high a concentration of Pine-Sol (or Lysol or what have you) or, for that matter, too low. This may seem like a classic case of bureaucratic overkill — you can just imagine EPA SWAT teams swooping down on Grandma to see if she’s mixing up the Pine-Sol right — but actually it does make some sense. Insecticides kill insects, and nobody doubts they ought to be regulated; disinfectants kill microorganisms, so it stands to reason they should be regulated, too.

Lest you be overcome with paranoia, be assured that much of the EPA’s enforcement effort is directed at disinfectant manufacturers, to see that their products are registered and labeled with the proper directions and so forth. On the consumer side, they usually just keep tabs on larger users–hospitals and day-care centers, say. They’ll only check up on an individual when there’s an injury or a citizen complaint. Ergo, if you’re into serious Pine-Sol abuse, make sure you do it out of sight of the neighbors. Sanctions, should it come to that, range from a warning letter for a first offense to fines and even criminal prosecution. For what it’s worth, most EPA citations of individuals involve weed killers and pesticides; nobody I spoke to could recall a disinfectant bust. Always a first time, though, so read those labels carefully. You’d hate to have a guy on a bullhorn yelling, “OK, Louie. Drop the mop.”

Cecil Adams

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