The latest class action challenges Purell bottles’ claims that the hand sanitizer can kill “99.9 percent of illness-causing germs.”
GOJO, the manufacturer of Purell hand sanitizer, is facing two class actions over “misleading claims” that its products can eradicate or prevent “99.9 percent of illness-causing germs.”
According to NBC News, the most recent claim against Purell was filed last Friday in a federal court. So far, it encompasses only four plaintiffs: one each from California, Massachusetts, Michigan and Oregon.
With cases of novel coronavirus quickly spreading across the United States, retailers are struggling to keep hand sanitizer in stock. As NBC notes, the virus—often referred to as COVID-19—has infected upwards of 300,000 people around the world. Its growth in the United States has been exponential: at the beginning of March, there were scarcely several dozen coronavirus cases on the American mainland. As of Sunday, there were more than 32,000, over half of which are concentrated in New York state alone.
The class action against Purell takes particular issue with the product’s claim that it can kill “99.9 percent of illness-causing germs.” That claim, states the lawsuit, is misleading because it implies “sound scientific support when none exists.”
Court documents, cited by USA Today, argue that Purell’s statistics are essentially bogus. Aside from the “99.9 percent” problem, the lawsuit notes that Purell bottles claim that a single “squirt” of sanitizer is twice as effective as a similar quantity from any competitor.
“These claims lack a scientific basis, rendering the affirmative misrepresentations misleading,” the suit says.
In response to the suit, GOJO President and CEO Carey Jaros said the accusations are “without merit.” Jaros also reaffirmed the company’s faith in its Purell brand, saying GOJO stands “100 percent behind the products.”
But the other lawsuit pending against GOJO casts some doubt on Jaros’s certainty. That class action—filed in February in an Ohio-based federal court—maintains that GOJO has repeatedly “broken the public’s trust” by making a series of unsound, unsubstantiated marketing claims.
And it’s not just the plaintiffs who’ve taken GOJO to task: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a written warning to the company in January, admonishing it against making unevidenced claims about its products’ efficacy.
In its letter, the FDA pointed to GOJO’s past marketing campaigns, including one which suggested that Purell could prevent the flu, as well as Ebola and a litany of other deadly diseases.
“However, FDA is currently not aware of any adequate and well-conducted studies demonstrating that killing or decreasing the number of bacteria or viruses on the skin by a certain magnitude produces a corresponding clinical reduction in infection or disease caused by such bacteria or virus,” the FDA wrote.
USA Today suggests the Purell class action is significant, or at least somewhat interesting, for two reasons: first, it comes as the nation prepares to lock down over coronavirus fears. Many Americans have taken to purchasing large quantities of hand sanitizer, with some hoarding it or attempting to resell it for profit. That’s despite the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation that hand sanitizer only be used when and where soap and water is unavailable.
Secondly—and somewhat ironically—one of GOJO’s Purell plant workers is suspected of having contracted coronavirus and remains under monitoring.
GOJO, which turned over a quarter-billion in profits in 2018, holds 25% of the U.S. hand sanitizer market.