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Company sued for allegedly selling fake hand sanitizer to Mass. schools

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued an Illinois-based company Monday for allegedly selling a fake hand sanitizer product to several school districts and at least one city, claiming that it could kill the COVID-19 virus.

According to the complaint, filed Monday in Suffolk Superior Court, School Health Corporation violated the Massachusetts False Claims Act by asserting that its product could prevent the spread of the coronavirus, despite not containing “any of the key ingredients in hand sanitizer,” Healey’s office said in a statement on Tuesday.

For a product to be legally marketed as a hand sanitizer, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, it must contain alcohol (ethanol), isopropyl alcohol, or benzalkonium chloride. (The agency has recommended that consumers avoid using hand sanitizer products that use other active ingredients.)

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However, School Health’s product, Theraworx Protect, does not contain those ingredients or have a drug facts label. Avadim Health Inc., the product’s manufacturer, registered the product as “cosmetic” with the FDA, according to Healey’s complaint.

According to Healey, the product also contained colloidal silver. The FDA ruled in 1999 that “products containing colloidal silver ingredients ... for internal or external use are not generally recognized as safe and effective.”

“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,” Healey said in a statement. “We are suing to hold this company accountable for these illegal actions that put the health of our children, teachers, and staff at risk.”

School Health sold more than $100,000 worth of its product, Theraworx Protect, to Framingham, Winchester, Nahant, Swampscott, New Bedford, Bridgewater-Raynham, and Wachusett school districts, as well as the city of Malden, between March and July 2020, Healey said.

Healey’s office obtained e-mails and documents regarding School Health during its investigation and discovered that both customers and School Health employees had questioned the company’s claims about the Theraworx Protect product.

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The lawsuit against School Health follows a $550,000 settlement that Healey’s office reached with Federal Resources Supply Company, also a distributor of Theraworx Protect, for falsely marketing the product to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

After that settlement last November, Framingham Public Schools contacted Healey’s office to let them know they had purchased more than $80,000 worth of the product. When a Framingham school official expressed concern to the company over their claims, an employee from the School Health Corporation responded in an e-mail: “You will be fine with the Theraworx product for the purposes of it killing COVID etc… Theraworx is 100% safe for eyes, ingestions [sic] etc.”

“School Health engaged in these marketing tactics with deliberate ignorance and/or reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the information in the claims it was making to the Cities and Towns regarding Theraworx Protect,” Healey wrote in her complaint.

A representative for School Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In her complaint, Healey is seeking three times the amount of damages, civil penalties against the company, legal fees, and the cost of the investigation.

“School Health took advantage of the fear and supply shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to sell an unproven and ineffective product to the Cities and Towns,” Healey wrote in the complaint. “In an intentional or reckless sales effort, the company made repeated false claims about the product’s efficacy against the COVID-19 virus when those claims had no competent supporting data. In doing so, the company risked the health and safety of students, teachers, and support staff in Massachusetts public schools.”

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Read the full complaint: