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NYC Subway Anti-Germ Spray’s COVID-19 Impact Unclear

MTA workers clean a subway while the system was closed overnight during the coronavirus outbreak.
MTA workers clean a subway while the system was closed overnight during the coronavirus outbreak, May 11, 2020.
Photo: Tim Minton/MTA

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Night after night, workers have sprayed a chemical throughout subway cars called Goldshield 75 that New York City Transit Authority officials say they were told provides a “shield” that would “eradicate” the coronavirus for up to 90 days.

Goldshield “claims it’s an antimicrobial against COVID-19. Our position is, ‘That’s promising,’” said Shams Tarek, an MTA spokesperson.

Four years ago, the company that makes Goldshield was forced to settle a complaint filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alleging that it made false statements about the effectiveness of the spray, records show.

The settlement required the firm to specify that the product “does not protect users or others against … disease-causing bacteria.”

Meanwhile, Goldshield is not on the EPA’s list of products approved for use as a vetted antimicrobial disinfectant for COVID-19 cleanups. The federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention advises that EPA-approved antimicrobials “are an important part of reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

In an April 30 presentation to the American Public Transportation Association, the Transit Authority official overseeing the cleanup, John Santamaria, vice president in charge of mechanical equipment, described the system’s three-step “Enhanced Disinfecting Process”: deep clean, apply disinfectant and apply an “antimicrobial shield to all surfaces.”

In the APTA presentation, Goldshield and another product, Zoono, are the only two listed that the Transit Authority says it’s using to create a “shield” on subway surfaces. Each product has “yet to be validated for its effectiveness,” according to the NYCTA’s presentation to the transportation group.

‘Protects Surfaces’

In an interview last month with CBS2 in Chicago describing the firm’s role in the New York City subway’s response to the pandemic, Goldshield Technologies Chief Operating Officer Brian Shlisky stated that the company is “using [Goldshield] to cover or coat or protect the MTA subways and subway stations, the bus depots, and now we are about to go into the buses for the entire New York City Transit.”

Shilsky then offered a description for how Goldshield works, stating that it “attaches to a surface and it has a long carbon chain, which then breaks down things like bacteria and mold, mildew, etc. And protects surfaces that way. It doesn’t leach. So it doesn’t come off surfaces. It will continue to protect surfaces for long term.”

A presentation by the American Public Transportation Association lists Goldshield 75 as a potential disinfectant for public transit.
A presentation by the American Public Transportation Association lists Goldshield 75 as a potential disinfectant for public transit.
Screengrab/American Public Transportation Association

During a May 4 news conference on the eve of the subway’s overnight shutdown, MTA Chairman Pat Foye didn’t mention Goldshield by name but stated, “We are testing multiple products from multiple companies. They claim and we are in the process of verifying with federal regulators and laboratories that their products will eradicate viruses, including COVID-19, for an extended period of time — 30, 60, 90 days.”

“That would be great news for all New Yorkers, frankly for all Americans and for all our customers,” he said.

The issue of what Goldshield can and cannot do emerged in 2016 when the EPA filed a five-count complaint against AP Goldshield LLC, charging that the company was making untrue claims about the spray’s effectiveness.

On its website at the time, the company stated “a single application provides up to a 30-day ‘invisible’ protective shield inhibiting a broad spectrum of bacteria, mold, mildew, fungi” and that “Goldshield products … are both biostatic [inhibits] and biocidal [kills] a broad spectrum of bacterial, mold, mildew, fungi and even some viruses.”

A $21K Fine

That marked the EPA’s second warning about the product. In January 2012, the EPA approved the sale of Goldshield with the requirement that it post on its label that “This product does not protect users or others against food-borne or disease-causing bacteria.”

But by April 2012, the agency had issued a “stop sale” order prohibiting further sale of Goldshield 75 after finding that the company had been selling these products via a website that “contained numerous claims that had not been accepted by EPA at the time the label was registered.”

Those claims cited by the EPA included the company’s assertion that Goldshield 75 “would have significant application in combating ‘sick building syndrome’ — acute health symptoms caused by microorganisms such as viruses, mildew and fungi.”

The EPA alleged that Goldshield continued to sell these products with the bogus claims, despite the “stop sale” order. So in March 2016, the EPA filed its complaint alleging the company was violating the law with false representations.

A few months later, Goldshield signed a settlement with the EPA and agreed to pay a $21,000 fine.

Responding to emailed questions from THE CITY, Goldshield’s Shilsky wrote, “We are not permitted to comment on a (sic) EPA old complaint. We denied any misrepresentation on our website, which was the genesis of the complaint.”

The 2016 settlement signed by the company states that Goldshield “neither admits nor denies” the five EPA charges filed against it.

Shilsky also declined to discuss how Goldshield came to provide the Transit Authority with its product, nor would he describe precisely what Goldshield does regarding COVID-19.

Shilsky contended: “We do not nor have we ever made claims about COVID-19 in the USA.”

He did note, however, that “in Europe and in Asia we do make viral claims as their testing protocols are different than in the USA and the core antimicrobials in those Nations (sic) are classified as bio-cides.”

In a National Grid PowerPoint describing the utility’s use of Goldshield in its pandemic response, National Grid states that it “kills COVID-19 virus when applied and seals surfaces to prevent future growth of COVID-19 from surviving on its surface for up to 90 days.”

Told of National Grid’s description of his company’s product, Shilsky said, “If a client or end user has unintentionally made any claims of efficacy regarding COVID-19 or and other virus based on our core technology …within the USA, we will notify them to cease such language and abide by our mandates to remain compliant with EPA registrations and our Master label claims.”

He added that as a result of THE CITY’s inquiry, the company will amend its description of its product “by issuing a new Guidance Memorandum.”

Testing Planned

Tarek, the MTA spokesperson, refused to say Wednesday whether the transit agency was aware of the EPA’s 2016 complaint against Goldshield — and declined comment when informed by THE CITY. On Thursday, another MTA spokesperson clarified that transit officials were not aware of the EPA action.

Tarek said that the product is just one of a half-dozen the agency is trying out.

“This is not something that has been confirmed to be an antimicrobial. It’s just something that’s being explored,” he said.

Tarek said both the MTA and the EPA are testing Goldshield and the other products being used.

“We’re committed to working with outside expert validators and testing any products that may help us protect the health and safety of our customers and employees,” he added. “The MTA is diligent about verifying the claims that manufacturers make and is putting every product it’s testing under strict scrutiny for safety and effectiveness.”

On Wednesday, Mary Mears, a spokesperson for the EPA, said, “We are in discussion with transit to conduct research, but are still working out the details.” On Thursday, Mears said the EPA is “collaborating” with the NYCTA and other transit agencies on evaluating disinfectants and that preliminary results are expected in June.

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