(Beyond Pesticides, May 1, 2009) The California State Senate’s Health Committee last week passed legislation that provides public health agencies and emergency responders timely access to complete ingredient lists of aerial pesticides. Senate Bill 759, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), requires the disclosure of inert or inactive ingredients in pesticides before they are approved for use by state regulators. The bill passed committee with a 8-2 bipartisan vote.
“In case of an emergency, it is critical that our health care professionals can easily access a complete list of pesticide ingredients so they can properly treat anyone who was exposed to them,” said Senator Leno. “Current law keeps emergency responders in the dark by permitting pesticide manufacturers to shield many of the ingredients they use from public disclosure,” he said.
Federal regulation requires pesticide manufacturers to disclose the ingredients of industrial chemicals only if they are classified as “active” ingredients. More than 99 percent of the ingredients in certain pesticides are designated as inert or inactive, so they are never disclosed to the public. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many consumers have a misleading impression of the term “inert ingredient,” believing it to be water or other harmless ingredients, when in fact the ingredient may have biological activity of its own, be toxic to humans and be chemically active. Scientists have been calling for disclosure of inerts on a national level for years.
In the fall of 2007, the California Department of Food and Agriculture sprayed aerial pesticides in coordination with the federal government as part of a campaign to eradicate the Light Brown Apple Moth. In the communities where these chemicals were applied, hundreds of Californians reported falling ill with everything from headaches and rashes to chest pains and asthma attacks.
“I am concerned that we, as citizens and health care providers, don’t know what is in the environmental chemicals we are exposed to,” said Dr. Ann Haiden, a Bay Area physician and internist who testified before the committee. “We need and deserve to have this information to be able to prevent harm and better help people who develop symptoms after exposure.”
SB 759 is co-sponsored by Pesticide Watch and the Center for Environmental Health. It also has the support of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which adopted a resolution on April 21 that urges the California Legislature to pass the measure.
“Pesticide manufacturers have a special responsibility to provide emergency responders with the full list of their products’ ingredients when pesticides are sprayed around California communities.” said Paul Schramski, State Director of Pesticide Watch. “A trip to the hospital shouldn’t turn into a guessing game for health care providers.”
SB 759 will be heard next in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.
The need for disclosure of inert ingredients extends far beyond aerial spraying or California. Most pesticides, including those registered for residential use and which require no training to apply, contain any number of inerts. Poisonings happen to people in all types of settings, from farmworkers to children, and can be due to even the newest generations of pesticides. For people to fully evaluate the risk a product could be and for medical professionals to properly treat poisonings, it is critical for EPA to require all inert ingredients to be listed on pesticide products. For more information on inerts and how to get more information from EPA, visit our page, “What’s in a Pesticide?”
TAKE ACTION: In 2006, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Beyond Pesticides, and other groups submitted a petition challenging EPA’s right to withhold inerts information. Email EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson TODAY at Hazardous_Inerts_Ingredients@epamail.epa.gov, asking EPA to respond to this petition! For more information, click here.