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Manhattan Starbucks Accused of Using Harsh Pesticides (1)

May 21, 2019, 4:51 PMUpdated: May 21, 2019, 7:33 PM

Starbucks coffee shops in New York use a harsh pesticide not recommended for use around food, exposing workers and consumers to toxic chemicals, according to two lawsuits filed May 21.

The declining sanitary conditions in Manhattan Starbucks have led the stores to use “No-Pest Strips” to combat insect encroachment, according to the consumer class action filed in New York state court. The strips use a time-released vapor containing the industrial insecticide Dichlorvos, or DDVP.

By inviting New Yorkers to spend hours working and socializing in their coffee shops, Starbucks has exposed their own patrons to the possibility of nausea, convulsions, muscle tremors, and even paralysis and coma, the suit alleges. The action claims two violations of New York general business laws governing consumer-oriented conduct and advertising.

A spokeswoman for Starbucks told Bloomberg Law the lawsuits are “inflated and misleading.” The No-Pest Strips were used in Starbucks stores in violation of company policy and were removed once management learned of their presence, she said.

An outside expert was brought in to evaluate the affected stores and he concluded there wasn’t any risk of exposure, the spokeswoman said.

“We don’t believe these allegations have any merit,” she said.

DDVP can be poisonous in high concentrations, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. A person can be exposed to the insecticide by air or through the skin, and it’s been linked to cancers in some animal testing, the ATSDR says.

The No-Pest Strips label indicates they shouldn’t be used in food-preparation spaces or in areas occupied by people are for more than 4 hours a day. Both complaints contain numerous photos of the No-Pest Strips in and around food and on food preparation surfaces, allegedly taken by a pest control technician who serviced Starbucks stores in Manhattan.

That technician is one of three plaintiffs who filed a separate whistleblower retaliation complaint May 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The pest technician, his company’s operations director, and a former store manager claim they gave Starbucks management numerous unheeded warnings to stop using DDVP in stores.

The manager claims he was fired for pressing the issue. Starbucks’ spokeswoman disagrees, and told Bloomberg Law his separation wasn’t related to reporting improper pesticide use.

But the pest inspectors allege Starbucks ended its contract with the pest control company only months after recognizing it as “Vendor of the Year.”

Starbucks’s upper management was aware stores were using pesticides to make up for the less-than-sanitary conditions at their stores, both complaints say.

The federal action claims violations of state and federal labor laws, whistleblower retaliation, and infliction of emotional distress.

Filosa Graff LLP represents Fox in the federal court action. Wigdor LLP represents George in the state court action.

The cases are Fox v. Starbucks Corp., S.D.N.Y., No. 19-cv-04650, complaint filed 5/21/19 and George v. Starbucks Corp., N.Y. Sup. Ct., No. 653015/2019, complaint filed 5/21/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Porter Wells in Washington at pwells@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com