§ 260.9 Free-of claims.
(a) It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product, package, or service is free of, or does not contain or use, a substance. Such claims should be clearly and prominently qualified to the extent necessary to avoid deception.
(b) A truthful claim that a product, package, or service is free of, or does not contain or use, a substance may nevertheless be deceptive if:
(1) The product, package, or service contains or uses substances that pose the same or similar environmental risks as the substance that is not present; or
(2) The substance has not been associated with the product category.
(c) Depending on the context, a free-of or does-not-contain claim is appropriate even for a product, package, or service that contains or uses a trace amount of a substance if:
(1) The level of the specified substance is no more than that which would be found as an acknowledged trace contaminant or background level
47 “Trace contaminant” and “background level” are imprecise terms, although allowable manufacturing “trace contaminants” may be defined according to the product area concerned. What constitutes a trace amount or background level depends on the substance at issue, and requires a case-by-case analysis.
(2) The substance's presence does not cause material harm that consumers typically associate with that substance; and
(3) The substance has not been added intentionally to the product.
A package of t-shirts is labeled “Shirts made with a chlorine-free bleaching process.” The shirts, however, are bleached with a process that releases a reduced, but still significant, amount of the same harmful byproducts associated with chlorine bleaching. The claim overstates the product's benefits because reasonable consumers likely would interpret it to mean that the product's manufacture does not cause any of the environmental risks posed by chlorine bleaching. A substantiated claim, however, that the shirts were “bleached with a process that releases 50% less of the harmful byproducts associated with chlorine bleaching” would not be deceptive.
A manufacturer advertises its insulation as “formaldehyde free.” Although the manufacturer does not use formaldehyde as a binding agent to produce the insulation, tests show that the insulation still emits trace amounts of formaldehyde. The seller has substantiation that formaldehyde is present in trace amounts in virtually all indoor and (to a lesser extent) outdoor environments and that its insulation emits less formaldehyde than is typically present in outdoor environments. Further, the seller has substantiation that the trace amounts of formaldehyde emitted by the insulation do not cause material harm that consumers typically associate with formaldehyde. In this context, the trace levels of formaldehyde emissions likely are inconsequential to consumers. Therefore, the seller's free-of claim would not be deceptive.