New Bedford Schools Among Those Duped by Fake Sanitizer, Lawsuit Alleges
(Update 3 p.m. 12/1 — New Bedford Public Schools provided further details on the cost of the cases and what the district expects to recoup from the lawsuit, which has been included.)
BOSTON — New Bedford Public Schools are among a handful of Massachusetts school districts named as victims of snake oil hand sanitizer sales during the first months of the pandemic in a new lawsuit from the state Attorney General's office.
Attorney General Maura Healey announced yesterday her office is suing an Illinois-based company for false marketing in selling $100,000 worth of a fake hand sanitizer to school districts across the state.
The A.G. alleges School Health Corporation claimed without evidence that its “Theraworx Protect” product could kill the COVID-19 virus despite not containing any of the key ingredients in hand sanitizer.
According to the A.G.'s office, the company also baselessly claimed the product would provide a multi-hour barrier against the virus.
Healey alleges the firm broke a Massachusetts law against false claims by misleading school districts in New Bedford as well as Bridgewater-Raynham, Framingham, Winchester, Nahant, Swampscott, Malden, and Wachusett.
New Bedford Public Schools spokesperson Arthur Motta stated that in Fiscal Year 2020, "the district received four cases of the defective product, which was not put into use and discarded back in the summer."
He noted that the district only spent $898 for the four cases, and it expects triple damages once the case is settled.
According to the A.G.'s office, Framingham Public Schools bought more than $80,000 of the product due to false representations from company staff.
These include an email from a School Health employee stating, “You will be fine with the Theraworx product for the purposes of it killing COVID etc…”
The A.G.'s office also previously settled a $550,000 lawsuit against the product's distributor for falsely marketing the product to the MBTA.
“This company exploited fears around a growing public health crisis in order to profit by selling a bogus hand sanitizer to schools looking to stop the spread,” said Healey.
“We are suing to hold this company accountable for these illegal actions that put the health of our children, teachers, and staff at risk.”
A spokesperson for the company could not immediately be reached for comment.
But the "Theraworx Protect" product line is still listed as "in stock" on the company's website, including foam, spray, and wipes.
Healey's office alleges company documents show both customers and employees of School Health questioned the firm’s statements about Theraworx Protect’s performance and ingredients.
The lawsuit also alleges that School Health staff acknowledged in a March 2020 email that the firm had no evidence to back up claims that the product was effective in combatting the spread of COVID-19.
Despite this, School Health allegedly continued to falsely market the product to public entities as a way to kill the virus, according to the office.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that hand sanitizers must contain alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, or benzalkonium chloride in order to legally be called 'hand sanitizers'.
Healey's office is seeking triple damages, civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs of its investigation with the lawsuit.
If awarded, proceeds are planned to go towards reimbursing the affected cities and towns, the office stated.