(Beyond Pesticides, August 7, 2008) In a move antithetical to the precautionary principle, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to extend the tolerance exemptions on certain inert ingredients in pesticides until further studies on their possible health effects have been performed. A decision in 2006 announced that tolerance exemptions on the listed inerts would be revoked as of August, 2008. However, pesticide producers put pressure on the agency to extend this deadline, and the agency complied, extending the date to August 2009.
Environmental and public health organizations advocate for stricter controls and more transparency regarding inert ingredients. Because inerts are not “active” ingredients, they do not have to appear on label and are considered proprietary information on the part of the manufacturers. However, their supposed inactivity or inertness belies the fact that these ingredients frequently pose serious health risks of their own, and commonly make up the majority of the volume of a pesticide. One such example is that of the herbicide Roundup, for which the primary inert ingredient was found to be highly toxic to amphibians (for full story, read Daily News of September 12, 2005).
The announcement in the Federal Register states, “EPA developed voluntary guidance describing how interested parties [pesticide registrants] could support these revoked tolerance exemptions, including consultations with the Agency about how they can demonstrate support, identifying test materials, and providing evidence that a laboratory has been hired to conduct the study.” The studies produced by industry-hired scientists and labs are frequently not peer reviewed, and the financial incentive exists to produce results favorable for the registrant.
The continued exemption on these inert ingredients highlights the primary flaw with the regulatory process for both active and inactive ingredients in pesticides. Rather than adopt a precautionary principle when it comes to chemicals with unknown toxicity, the EPA appears to allow chemicals to remain innocent until proven guilty, and relies on a flawed risk assessment process that does not adequately address exposure and risk. Once proven guilty, these pesticides, both active ingredients and inerts, have already left a toxic trail on the environment and people’s well-being.
For more information on inert ingredients, visit the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides articles on inerts.