Shoe retailer VF Outdoor will have to pay US$207,500 after being fined by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allegedly making health claims about its products.

The San Leandro, California-based company must pay the penalty for making unsubstantiated public health claims such as providing "antimicrobial protection" and inhibiting the growth of "disease-causing bacteria" for more than 60 shoe products it sold - a violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

The products were sold under The North Face label by VF Outdoor. Products discovered online and evidence found at a North Face retail store in San Francisco led EPA to issue a complaint against VF Outdoor in 2009.

"EPA will take decisive action against companies making unverified public health claims," said EPA Pacific Southwest region regional administrator Jared Blumenfeld.

"Unless these products are registered with EPA, consumers have little or no information about whether their claims are accurate."

EPA's authority to assess penalties in these settlements stems from FIFRA, which requires that companies register pesticide products with EPA before making claims about their ability to control germs or pathogens.

The agency adds that while North Face products incorporated EPA-registered silver-based antimicrobial compounds to protect them against deterioration, they were never tested or registered to protect consumers against bacteria, fungus, mould, and/or mildew.

"We're seeing more and more consumer products making a wide variety of antimicrobial claims," said EPA Pacific Southwest region ecosystems division assocaite director Katherine Taylor. "Whether they involve shoes, headphones, or household fixtures, EPA takes these unsubstantiated public health claims very seriously."

Under FIFRA, products that claim to kill or repel bacteria or germs are considered pesticides and must be registered with the EPA prior to distribution or sale.

The Agency does not register a pesticide until it has been tested to show that it will not pose an unreasonable risk when used according to the label directions.