The Alliance for Green Heat filed a report urging the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to investigate whether a recall or some other action is warranted for a Log Wood Stove made by US Stove company.
A whistleblower provided information to the EPA Office of Enforcement alleging serious fraud and violations of EPA regulations, some of which could be dangerous to consumers. AGH reported on those allegations last week, which include alleged fraudulent labelling of stoves and potential safety hazards from stoves allegedly flood-damaged but sold as new.
AGH urges anyone who bought a Log Wood Stove in 2019 or 2020 (model 1269E) to check the permanent label on the back of the stove to determine if they bought a 2015 compliant stove or a 2020 compliant one. If you bought a 2015 compliant unit after June 15, 2020, or the product was advertised as 2020 compliant when it was only 2015 compliant, AGH urges you to file a report with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and to contact Rafael Sanchez at the EPA Office of Enforcement at Sanchez.Rafael@epa.gov or (202) 564-7028.
If the report filed by AGH meets the minimum requirements for publication on SaferProducts.gov, CPSC will send it to the manufacturer within 5 business days. Reports that meet the minimum requirements for publication should be posted on SaferProducts.gov 10 business days after CPSC sends them to the manufacturer.
The CPSC confirmed that on April 23, 2021, they sent Report No. 20210421-C5A48-2147364589 to the manufacturer of the product described in AGH's Report. AGH consented to have its contact information provided to the manufacturer, so they now can contact AGH directly about the contents of the report, if they wish to clear up any of the allegations. To date, they have flatly denied all of the allegations.
After the whistleblower began to alert consumers about the alleged fraud and dangers, US Stove obtained a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the whistleblower, requiring them to refrain from accessing, publishing, disclosing, or otherwise disseminating USSC’s confidential information to any third party. There is a court hearing on the 26th during which US Stove will likely have to show the whistleblower’s accusations are false for it to prevail. Otherwise, the whistleblower can continue to warn consumers about the alleged fraudulent activities and safety issues. Normally in whistleblower cases, a TRO would be issued against the employer, not the whistleblower. However, TROs also have been used to silence a critic if they are spreading false information that damages the company.
If the whistleblower’s allegations are true, it could lead to serious fines by the EPA and trigger a recall of certain products. There have been a number stove recalls in the past several decades, the largest of which was for another stove made by US Stove.
Companies can cooperate with, or impede, investigations by the EPA and CPSC, and there are different implications in each case. The CPSC made headline news recently when it took the highly unusual step of issuing an administrative subpoena to Peleton, a company that makes home workout products, after Peleton refused to issue a voluntarily recall a treadmill and clashed with the agency over the wording of a proposed safety notice. The Washington Post reported that the next day, the CPSC issued a public warning calling the treadmill dangerous and telling people with small children or pets to stop using it.
The US 1269e model in question is only one of many US Stove models and its the only one to be approved, pending review by a rigorous state process that was conducted by the State of Alaska. Alaska reviewed both the 2015 compliant version, the 1269e, as well as the 2020 compliant one, the US 1269. The Alaska review says that for the 1269e there were two test reports for the same model, and one passed and one didn't. failed the emissions certification test and then retested and passed, a unique issue and potentially an illegal one. The Alaska review would not be able to detect whether a unit is being manufactured prior to its certification or sold as 2020 compliant, when it was actually the 2015 compliant version, as the 1269E was alleged to have been. The EPA has the authority to revoke the certification of the US 1269e, based on evidence in their possession, prior to determining whether there is cause to issue a fine.
The EPA Office of Enforcement handles a variety of enforcement actions, but larger cases with potentially higher penalties are turned over to the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, as this case reportedly has been. On April 26, US Stove is expected to ask for a longer-term injunction against the whistleblower for sharing confidential information, but this would not prevent the whistleblower from cooperating with the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation or a potential investigation from the Consumer Product Safety Board.