The Federal Trade Commission today announced that a $70,000 redress fund is to be set up for those who purchased the Caribbean Clear swimming pool disinfection system, endorsed by both a prominent Olympic champion swimmer and a coach, as part of a settlement of civil contempt charges in connection with advertising claims that the system can be used in pools and hot tubs without chlorine or similar chemicals and that it renders pool water safe enough to drink. The FTC said Caribbean Clear USA, Inc. cannot substantiate those claims, and that it therefore has violated a prior federal court order. The settlement also requires Caribbean Clear USA Inc. to notify purchasers about the need to use appropriate chemicals with the system.
Caribbean Clear USA, based in Lexington, South Carolina, is the successor to Caribbean Clear, Inc., the subject of a 1992 FTC law enforcement action challenging similar claims as well as that firm’s franchising practices. In the new action, the FTC alleges that Caribbean Clear USA and former corporate officer Jerry Minchey have violated the 1992 consent order, which prohibits them from making unsubstantiated claims about the effectiveness or safety of their spa or pool purifiers. The Caribbean Clear System is a copper and silver ionization device, which the company markets as an alternative to chlorine, although such devices do not eliminate the need for chemical purifiers altogether. Caribbean Clear USA has sold thousands of the systems since 1992 for between $795 to $1695, marketing them through brochures and a promotional video.
“Stop bleaching your kids,” states one of the promotional pieces for the Caribbean Clear System cited by the FTC in its civil contempt case. The product itself as well as the promotional pieces are labeled with the statement, “Chlorine Free Swimming.” Another ad says: “Caribbean Clear produces pool and spa water that exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for drinking water.” These and other statements and depictions in the ads conveyed the claims that the system is effective for purifying swimming pools and hot tubs without chlorine or other chemicals, and for rendering swimming pool water safe enough to drink, the FTC alleged. In addition, one of the ads shows the former Olympic champion swimmer drinking water from the pool. But Caribbean Clear USA and Minchey did not have evidence to support these claims, the FTC charged.
“Claims like these can pose a real safety hazard for children and other swimmers, who may believe they are protected from disease, infections or other health risks of swimming pools. That’s our overriding concern in bringing this action,” said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It also is the first time the FTC has enforced a substantiation order through a civil contempt proceeding. We will not hesitate to use this tool again, where appropriate to protect consumers.”
The settlement in the civil contempt case requires Caribbean Clear USA, within 10 days after the court approves the order, to write consumers who have purchased the system to alert them to the need to use appropriate levels of chlorine or bromine in their pools or spas.
Under the redress program set up by the FTC pursuant to the order, Caribbean Clear USA is to give the FTC a list of all its franchisors, and of all consumers who have purchased the system since June 1, 1992. The FTC will send those consumers a notice, once the details of the redress plan have been finalized.
The settlement in the case also would prohibit Caribbean Clear USA from representing that any purifier can make swimming pool water safe enough to drink, and from making any material misrepresentation in connection with selling a product. Further, it would require Caribbean Clear USA and Minchey to comply with the prior order, and also to have scientific substantiation before representing that a purifier is effective to disinfect pool or spa water without adding chlorine or other similar chemicals at a level set by a specified standard.
The FTC vote to file this action in court was 5-0. The settlement was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division, yesterday afternoon. It requires court approval to become binding.
NOTE: This stipulated settlement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. It will have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the stipulated settlement, as well as documents associated with the earlier case, are available from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases, supporting documents and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC File No. X920041)
(Civil Action No. 3-92-1662-19)