The Federal Trade Commission has filed suit in federal district court alleging that Alpine Industries, Inc., a company based in Tennessee and Minnesota, has violated a 1995 Commission order by continuing to claim, without adequate substantiation, that its ozone-generating indoor "air cleaner" devices remove numerous pollutants, do so better than other methods, and prevent or relieve medical or health related conditions. The FTC is seeking a court order against the firm and its president, William J. Converse, and civil penalties up to $11,000 per order violation. Alpine and Mr. Converse are bound by the 1995 order, which requires competent and reliable scientific evidence to back up such claims.
The case stems from a law-enforcement action the FTC announced in June 1995 against Alpine; Living Air Corporation, a predecessor company; and Converse, an officer of both firms. Alpine is a multi-level marketing organization -- its products are sold by distributors to whom Alpine provides promotional materials. In the 1995 case, the FTC challenged claims that the Living Air Model XL15, which sold for about $600, cleans the air of various indoor air pollutants and prevents or relieves allergies, asthma and other conditions. The two companies and Converse avoided trial by settling the FTC charges and agreeing to be bound by the 1995 order.
Nonetheless, in a complaint filed in federal district court in Tennessee, the FTC alleged that since September 1995, when the order became effective, Alpine and Converse have disseminated promotional materials for ozone-generating air cleaner products that include statements such as:
"ARE YOU LIVING IN A SICK HOUSE? And is it making you sick too? Many otherwise unexplained physical ailments can probably be traced to dust, various chemicals, bacteria and a host of other airborne pollutants trapped inside with you -- inside where you spend 90% of your time. . . . Revitalize your indoor air at home with the power of a Living Air Model 880. The 880 replicates nature by emitting ozone and negative ions into the air. This effect, the same one created by a thunderstorm or waterfall, freshens otherwise stale indoor air by oxidizing airborne pollutants and knocking down floating particulate. . . ."
Through these and other statements, the FTC alleged that Alpine and Converse have represented that their air cleaning products effectively eliminate or clean pollutants from indoor air, that the use of ozone is more effective in cleaning or purifying indoor air than other cleaning methods, and that their air cleaning products prevent or provide relief from medical or health-related conditions. The defendants did not have competent and reliable evidence to back up these claims, the FTC charged.
The FTC staff noted that Alpine has filed suit in a Tennessee federal district court challenging the agency's investigation and asking the court to declare that the company is in compliance with the 1995 order. On November 10, 1997, the Commission filed a motion asking the court to dismiss Alpine's lawsuit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. That case is still pending in the Tennessee court.
The FTC complaint was filed on December 30, 1997, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, in Greeneville, by the Department of Justice at the FTC's request. The Commission vote to file it was 4-0.
NOTE: The Commission authorizes filing of a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
Copies of the documents associated with this action are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also 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 Docket No. C-3614)
(Civil Action No. 2:97-CV-509)