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December 7, 2021

Commercial custodial company must pay $75,000 penalty, provide refunds over false COVID cleaning claims

Company claimed its Test-Treat-Track process provided long-lasting protection from coronavirus  

DES MOINES - Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has reached a settlement with a Des Moines-based commercial custodial and janitorial company, resolving allegations it violated the Consumer Fraud Act by falsely advertising that its antimicrobial cleaning process provided long-lasting protection against transmission of the coronavirus on surfaces.    

Heritage Group, Heritage Microbial Control, LLC, SPMC, LLC and Joseph Johnson, must pay a $75,000 penalty, continue to offer customers refunds, and refrain from claiming that its antimicrobial cleaning process provide long-term protection to surfaces from the coronavirus, unless such claims are approved by appropriate federal and state authorities. Johnson and the companies denied wrongdoing in the case. 

“As the pandemic began, we shared concerns that companies would try to sell cleaning services based on unfounded claims to prevent the coronavirus, wasting Iowans’ money and potentially harming their health,” Miller said. “We were pleased to come to a resolution with Heritage Building Maintenance and to finalize this agreement that refunds customers and puts an end to these claims.” 

In the summer of 2020, Miller’s Consumer Protection Division began investigating Heritage Building Maintenance’s claims that its antimicrobial Test-Treat-Track three-step process provided long-lasting prevention or mitigated the transmission of the coronavirus on surfaces 

The Test-Treat-Track process, which is also referred to as Science-Proven Microbial Control, is licensed by SPMC to partners, including Heritage Building Maintenance. Heritage sold the process to approximately 65 Iowa customers with more than 200 locations or buildings in the Des Moines metro area, including school districts, medical facilities, municipalities and large employers.   

According to the AG’s settlement, Heritage Building Maintenance represented or implied that the Test-Treat-Track process kept surfaces free from the coronavirus for 30, 60 or 90 days after application. It also advertised the process generally provided long-term protection against viruses and the transmission of infections.  

The AG’s office alleged that Heritage Building Maintenance lacked a reasonable basis for these claims and that they were misleading, deceptive, and an unfair practice.   

The EPA has approved each antimicrobial surface protectant used in the second step of the Test-Treat-Track process for inhibiting odor-causing bacteria and fungi or bacteria and fungi that cause staining and discoloration and algae. However, the EPA notes the products do not protect users or others against food-borne or disease-causing bacteria or fungi. 

Heritage Building Maintenance entered into a preliminary agreement with the AG’s office in November 2020.  

At that time, Heritage Building Maintenance agreed to discontinue claims that its antimicrobial services provided long-term protection against transmission of coronavirus and to notify affected customers that such claims were not EPA-approved. Heritage offered refunds to customers at that time.  

Under the finalized agreement, the company must continue to offer refunds to any customer who purchased the Test-Treat-Track process after January 1, 2020. Customers who purchased the service after that date can request a refund at any time until November 30, 2023.  

Heritage Building Maintenance must also pay a $75,000 penalty, which will go to the state’s Consumer Education and Litigation Fund.  

Additionally, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship sent a warning letter in May 2021 to Heritage Building Maintenance requiring the company to cooperate in the safe use and handling of all pesticide products, including following all labeling directions and precautionary statements. Failure to discontinue misrepresentations about the disinfectant coating could result in civil penalties.  

Today’s case marks the second in which the Consumer Protection Division has addressed building and commercial treatment misrepresentations related to the coronavirus. The office entered an ongoing, preliminary Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with Pure Maintenance of Iowa, an Iowa-based mold remediation company, that claimed its products could provide long-lasting protection against the virus. The agreement was reached before any Iowa customers purchasing the service.  
 

Research before buying cleaning services

The Attorney General’s office advises that if consumers purchase any cleaning/remediation services, they do the following: 

  • Ask the business what disinfectants and other products they use. 

  • Check whether that product appears on the EPA’s “List N,” which lists disinfectants that meet EPA’s criteria for use against the virus that causes COVID-19. 

While surface disinfectant products on List N have not been tested specifically against coronavirus, EPA expects them to kill the virus because they demonstrate efficacy against a harder-to-kill virus. The agency notes that your success in killing viruses depends on following all label directions.  

The EPA has also released an advisory about products and services making misleading claims about being able to disinfect and kill COVID-19. 

The advisory notes: “It is unlawful for any person to distribute or sell a pesticide in the United States making claims to that it will kill a particular pathogen, unless that pesticide is registered with EPA and that particular claim has been deemed acceptable by the agency.”  

The agency also cautions that unregistered products could be harmful to human health. 
 

How to file a complaint with us 

If you suspect a scam, contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. To file a complaint, go here or call 515-281-5926 (in Des Moines area) or 888-777-4590 (outside the metro area).   

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