Two companies that manufacture and market replacement filters for home forced-air furnaces have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they made misleading claims regarding allergy relief, airborne particle removal, and cost benefits when their filters are used in place of standard forced air system filters. AAF-McQuay, Inc, which does business as AAF International (AAF), based in Baltimore, Maryland, and Filtration Manufacturing, Inc. (FMI), of Mobile, Alabama, and its company officers, would be required by the proposed settlements to have substantiation for all performance claims, health or other benefits claims, and efficacy claims made for any air cleaning product in the future.
In announcing the cases, Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection cautioned industry that "using tests not designed to measure real-life performance as a basis for performance claims, violates basic advertising law principles."
According to FTC staff, both AAF and FMI misrepresented the meaning of standard industry tests in making the challenged claims. First, while these tests are useful for comparison purposes, according to the test protocol, the results cannot be used to predict the cleanliness of a specific airspace. In fact, the cleanliness of air in a home is influenced by numerous factors, only one of which is the effectiveness of the filter in removing the contaminants that pass through it. Second, the test protocol prescribes two separate tests, the "arrestance" test and the "dust spot" test. Both AAF and FMI based their claims on results of the arrestance test, in which a "relatively coarse synthetic dust" is fed through the filter in contrast to the dust spot test which uses atmospheric air. Thus, a filter may achieve a relatively high score on the arrestance test even though its score on the dust spot test would be much lower. For example, a typical furnace filter that costs less than a dollar and is thrown away after three months will likely achieve an arrestance score of around 70 percent. Its dust spot score, however, is likely to be around 2 percent To prevent confusion, the industry protocol requires a test report to include the results of both the arrestance and the dust spot test. The arrestance test results alone could dramatically overstate the extent to which a filter will remove particulates from household air.
" I understand that the industry is developing new tests to measure the performance of air filters," Bernstein continued. "I applaud this effort and hope they will give consumers a better basis for evaluating filters."
At issue in the FTC’s complaint detailing the allegations against respondent AAF are claims made for the Dirt Demon (fiberglass panels, pleated "synthetic" filters) and the ElectroKlean (permanent electrostatic panels) brand filters. The complaint alleges that AAF disseminated advertisements and promotional materials that contained such statements as:
Permanent Air Filter
Eliminates 95% of Household Dust, Lint and Pollen
Helps reduce sources of allergy problems by eliminating microscopic airborne particles, including pet dander; and
Treated with EPA Registered Intersept Antimicrobial
Special additive makes ElectroKlean superior to ordinary filters, helps to significantly improve indoor air quality.
Inhibits growth of odor causing bacteria, mold, mildew and other organisms that can quickly multiply in your heating and cooling system; and
Pleated Air filter
6 TIMES BETTER THAN STANDARD AIR FILTERS
REMOVES 95% OF HOUSEHOLD DIRT, DUST, POLLEN AND LINT
HELPS RELIEVE ALLERGY SYMPTOMS
Through the use of such statements, according to the complaint, AAF has represented, among other things, that:
- Use of the ElectroKlean and Dirt Demon filters will substantially reduce the incidence of allergies caused by allergens under household living conditions;
- The Dirt Demon traps 95% of the lint, dust and pollen from the household air passing through it;
- The addition of Intersept antimicrobial to the ElectroKlean makes air cleaner and healthier than it would otherwise be under household living conditions; and
- The addition of Intersept antimicrobial to the Dirt Demon removes the filter as a potential source of contamination of household air.
The complaint alleges that AAF did not posses and rely upon a reasonable basis to substantiate such representations and therefore the representations were false and misleading.
Further, the complaint alleges that AAF, in advertisements and promotional materials, has represented the Dirt Demon to be a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter -- a filter that scores high in industry dust spot efficiency testing, but that are only used in room air cleaners and not in furnace filters -- when, in fact, the Dirt Demon is not a HEPA filter. The complaint alleges that such a representation was false and misleading.
FMI’s only product is the Allergy 2000 electrostatic air filter, which comes in several sizes to fit home heating/air conditioning ducts. It is a replacement for conventional filters with a suggested retail price of $99. FMI primarily sells its filters through distributors who are heating and air conditioning contractors, and provides distributors with display racks and promotional materials for placement in doctors’ offices and pharmacies.
The FTC’s complaint detailing the charges against respondents FMI, and company officers Gary L. Savell, Horace R. Allen, and Brandon R. Clausen, alleges that the respondents disseminated advertisements and promotional materials that contained such statements as:
- Prescribe the ultimate in care for your patient today!;
- Clearly improving the quality of air your patients breathe can be an important step to improving their overall health;
- Isn’t it time you stopped leaving your family’s health up in the air?;
- Traps allergy causing contaminants: Dust, Pollen, Mold Spores, Pet Dander and Smoke; and
- Introducing the amazing Allergy 2000. The last air conditioning filter you’ll ever buy.
Through the use of such statements, according to the complaint, the respondents have represented, among other things, that:
- Use of the Allergy 2000 filter will substantially reduce the incidence of allergies caused by indoor allergens under household living conditions;
- People living in homes using the Allergy 2000 air filter will be healthier and have fewer illnesses than they would if a conventional filter were used; and
- Replacement of conventional air filters with the Allergy 2000 will result in lower utility bills for households.
The complaint alleges that FMI did not posses and rely upon a reasonable basis to substantiate such representations and therefore the representations were false and misleading.
The proposed settlements to the allegations against AAF and FMI, announced today for a public comment period before the FTC determines to make them final, would require both of the companies to have substantiation for all performance claims, health or other benefits claims, and efficacy claims made for any air cleaning product in the future. In addition, the proposed agreement would prohibit AAF from misrepresenting that any air filter is a HEPA filter. Further, the proposed settlement with FMI would prohibit the company from using the Allergy 2000 name or any other trade name that directly or indirectly represents that the product will relieve allergy symptoms unless the respondents possess and rely upon competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the representations.
The proposed settlements contain a number of various reporting requirements to assist the FTC in monitoring the respondent’s compliance with the orders.
The Commission vote to accept the proposed settlements for public comment was 5-0.
A summary of the proposed consent agreements will be published in the Federal Register shortly. They will be subject to public comment for 60 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make them final. Comments should be addressed to FTC, Office of the Secretary, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20580.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future violations. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $10,000.
Copies of the complaints, the proposed consent agreements, and analyses of the agreements to aid in public comment 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 FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov
Office of Public Affairs
(FTC File No.: 942 3036)