Agreement Halts Phoney "west Nile" Claims

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that a Long Island landscaping company has agreed to pay a fine and immediately cease an advertising campaign that falsely claimed its spraying of homeowners' trees and shrubs would kill mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus.

The action against Green Island Tree Spray Inc. (also known as Green Island Tree and Lawn Care) of Huntington includes a fine of $35,000 and restitution to customers who hired the company based on its deceptive advertising. Half the fine will be suspended so long as Green Island complies with the terms of the settlement.

"This pesticides applicator cynically preyed upon peoples' fear of the West Nile virus for the sake of increased profit," said Spitzer. "This action should serve as a warning to others who might contemplate similar schemes. My office will take swift action against those who might use concerns about the West Nile virus or other diseases to deceptively market pesticide services."

Spitzer's action against Green Island Tree Spray Inc. focused on solicitations mailed to homeowners in which the company emphasized the "very real threat of an Encephalitic Mosquito outbreak come this Spring and Summer" and offered to spray trees and shrubs with a product it described as containing "no active insecticide" yet "extremely effective" in killing mosquito eggs before they hatch.

In fact, mosquitos lay their eggs in stagnant water, not in trees and shrubs. Furthermore, and contrary to its advertising, Green Island used an insecticide -- Dormant Oil -- that contains 98 percent active ingredients. Green Island did not have the proper certification to engage in the business of controlling public health pests such as mosquitos and the product it was advertising cannot legally be applied to control mosquitos.

This settlement marks the second time in three years that the Attorney General's office has taken action against Green Island Tree Spray Inc. The company's fraudulent advertising campaign in the late winer and spring of 2000 violated a 1998 agreement with the Attorney General's office under which the company promised to cease claiming that its pesticide services are safe, non-toxic and will not harm humans, pets, other non-targeted organisms or the environment. Pesticides are poisons designed to kill living organisms and it is inappropriate to make safety claims about their use.

Under federal law, the government's decision to allow a particular pesticide to be marketed is based on weighing the risks of applying the poison against the benefits of its use. Consequently, federal guidelines prohibit those who sell pesticide products from labelling them as "safe, non-poisonous, non-injurious, harmless, or non-toxic."

Green Island also attempted to deceive families who had recently purchased homes by claiming in its solicitations that the company had provided lawn and tree care services to the prior owner of the property when in fact that was not the case. Homeowners who contracted with Green Island because of such false soliciting can receive full restitution under terms of the Attorney General's action.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Gershon and Chief Scientist Michael Surgan of the Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau, and Assistant Attorney General Ricardo Montano of the Attorney General's Consumer Frauds and Protection unit in Hauppauge.

Consumers who paid for Green Island's services and feel they may be entitled to a refund should contact Ricardo Montano at 631-231-2401.