Capital Clicks

Company must pay $75,000 fine for ‘deceptive’ COVID-19 cleaner

By: - December 7, 2021 1:19 pm

An illustration of a coronavirus, created for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Image by Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM)

A Des Moines custodial company must pay $75,000 and offer customer refunds after falsely claiming that its cleaning process would protect against surface transmission of COVID-19 for up to 90 days. 

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced Tuesday that the state reached a settlement with a group of companies owned or run by Iowa resident Joseph Johnson. According to his LinkedIn profile, Johnson was the president of Heritage Building Maintenance, a custodial company, and in the summer of 2021 he became the technical director for SPMC, LLC — short for “Science-Proven Microbial Control.”

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller (Photo courtesy of Iowa Attorney General’s Office)

The cleaning companies advertised a process called “Test-Treat-Track.” Cleaners would test a surface for microbes, then clean, disinfect and spray a barrier protectant. The companies would return one to three months later to measure the microbes again.

“Regularly scheduled touchpoint testing tracks the protectant’s staying-power and provides verifiable proof of the MicrobX program’s efficacy,” the SPMC website reads.

Heritage Building Maintenance sold the service to about 65 customers in Iowa, deploying it in more than 200 Des Moines buildings, including schools and medical centers, according to an Attorney General news release.

The AG’s office alleged that Heritage and SPMC did not have evidence that their Test-Treat-Track process could keep surfaces free from the coronavirus or other viruses for extended periods of time.

“As the pandemic began, we shared concerns that companies would try to sell cleaning services based on unfounded claims to prevent the coronavirus, wasting Iowans’ money and potentially harming their health,” Miller said in a news release. “We were pleased to come to a resolution with Heritage Building Maintenance and to finalize this agreement that refunds customers and puts an end to these claims.” 

Customers who bought a Test-Treat-Track package after January 1, 2020 are eligible for a refund from the company. The $75,000 penalty will go toward Iowa’s Consumer Education and Litigation Fund.

Heritage Building Maintenance declined to comment on the settlement agreement.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.