A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Criminals smuggle tainted safety equipment into U.S.; illegal kits nabbed in Louisville, Erlanger

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The two Customs and Border Protection offices in Kentucky have been busy since the coronavirus pandemic began, seizing counterfeit or unapproved test kits that come in to the United States via air cargo hubs.

The agency says criminals are exploiting the pandemic for illegal financial gain by smuggling and selling counterfeit safety equipment, unapproved testing kits, medicines, and hygiene products to individuals. To combat this, CBP is targeting imports and exports, mainly in international mail and express consignment cargo environments, that may contain counterfeit or illicit goods.

In Louisville, CBP officers have made 16 seizures totaling 187 Virus Shutout lanyards. The Shutout devices claim efficacy against coronavirus strains but often contain the hazardous pesticide Chloride Dioxide.

Counterfeit and illegal coronavirus test kits have been seized by Customs and Border Protection officers in both of the ports of entry located in Kentucky. (CBP photo)

“This pesticide can leech into the skin on contact, cause breathing issues, and lead to additional health concerns for the wearer,” said Thomas Mahn, Port Director, Louisville. “The Shutout devices often lead to a false sense of security and in no way protects the bearer from the coronavirus.”

The shipments included false or misleading claims, lacked required warnings, and do not have EPA approval as to their efficacy claim. It is also unlawful to import a Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act regulated pesticide into the United States and these shipments were ultimately seized by CBP. The domestic value of these devices was less than $4,000.

It’s a similar and larger story at the Cincinnati CBP office, which is located near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Erlanger.

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CBP officers there have made 62 seizures, a total of 29,438 kits, with 52 shipments still awaiting FDA review. These kits had a domestic value of $588,760. These seizures contained counterfeit kits, as well as unapproved and prohibited test kits. Some of the larger seizures were seizures of 5,000 kits and then three other seizures of 2,000 kits each.

“Our officers know their role on the frontline is critical to the health and safety of the American people,” said Richard Gillespie, Port Director, Cincinnati. “At a time when the country is in the middle of a National Emergency, our officers are dedicated to protecting our citizens and ensuring their safety.”

The CBP says authorized testing for COVID-19 is being conducted by medical professionals in most states and at local public health laboratories across the United States. The public should be aware of bogus home testing kits for sale either online or in informal-direct-to-consumer settings and the dangers that they may pose if not administered by medical professionals.

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