(Beyond Pesticides, January 23, 2007) Citing an extensive body of literature illustrating the concern over related human and environmental health effects, recent commentary in Environmental Health Perspectives continues the call for improvements in pesticide regulation and “inert” ingredient disclosure.
The authors, Caroline Cox, Ph.D., research director at the Center for Environmental Health, and Michael Surgan, Ph.D., chief scientist in the Office of the Attorney General of New York State, highlight the regulatory weaknesses that allow the “inert” ingredients in pesticide formulations to go largely untested. In response, they are calling for a pesticide registration process that requires full assessment of formulations and full disclosure on product labels.
“Inert” refers to ingredients in a pesticide formulation that have been added to the active ingredient to serve a variety of functions, such as acting as solvents, surfactants, or preservatives. However, the common misconception is that “inert” ingredients are physically, chemically, or biologically inactive substances. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that “many consumers have a misleading impression of the term ”˜inert ingredient,’ believing it to mean water or other harmless ingredients.”
The commentary provides evidence that “inerts” are often far from harmless and need to be examined closely for environmental, wildlife and public health effects. Further, they present an urgent need for “inert” regulation and disclosure due to the ubiquitous nature of pesticides in the environment, pointing to data that shows pesticides have been found in the United States in all streams, “in >70% of common foods, and in over half of adults and children.”
The following are excerpts summarizing some of the major concerns identified regarding “inerts:”
- Of the 20 toxicologic tests required (or conditionally required) to register a pesticide in the United States, only seven short-term acute toxicity tests use the pesticide formulation; the rest are done with only the active ingredient. The medium- and long-term toxicity tests that explore end points of significant concern (cancer, reproductive problems, and genetic damage, for example) are conducted with the active ingredient alone.
- Numerous studies indicate that inert ingredients may enhance the toxicity of pesticide formulations to the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, mitochondria, genetic material, and hormone systems.
- Inert and active ingredients can interact to diminish the protective efficacy of both clothing and skin, reduce the efficacy of washing, and increase persistence and off-target movement of pesticides.
- The severity of varied toxic effects of active ingredients of pesticides in nontarget plants, animals, and microorganisms can be enhanced by the inert ingredients with which they are formulated.
The article comes on the heals of an “inerts” petition that was filed last August by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Beyond Pesticides and others. Attorneys general from 14 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have submitted a companion petition to EPA as well.
For more information, see the full article in last month’s issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.
TAKE ACTION: Tell EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson (email: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: 202-564-4700, fax: 202-501-1450) that you have a right to know what ingredients are used in pesticide products and that EPA has a duty to fully test pesticide formulations.