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Stand-Alone Branch Office For Inerts Coming to EPA
(Beyond Pesticides, February 12, 2004)
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs is planning to open a separate regulatory branch specifically to deal with pesticide inert ingredients within the next year, according to the ejournal, Pesticide.net.

EPA has experienced a large backlog in inert approvals for almost a decade and is receiving mounting pressure from industry to move the approvals along so new inert ingredients can be reviewed and new pesticide products can hit the market. At the same time, the recent implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act requires the agency to finally reassess tolerances for hundreds of food-use inerts, particularly for their toxicities to children, by August 2006.

“Our goal,” Betty Shackleford, deputy director of the Registration Division, told Pesticide.net, “is to put in place a dedicated infrastructure to review inerts.” “We don’t have any good sense of a timeline,” she added, saying that it could take up to eight months to create the new department.

How fast the EPA will be able to review the tolerance assessments of the remaining 400 inert ingredients, let alone get to new applications, will undoubtedly depend on the division’s level of staffing. Some EPA divisions have 20 employees while others have far fewer, Shackleford told Pesticide.net, adding that she had no idea the number of staff that would be devoted to a new inert division. Funding for the new branch will certainly be a challenge as Shackleford also added that it would “simply be a matter of using existing allocations.”

Inert ingredients have long been a source of great contention for environmentalists and pesticide activists. While discussion usually focuses on the toxicities of active ingredients, so-called “inert” ingredients generally make up the largest percentage of a pesticide product or formulation. (So-called, because these “other” ingredients are neither chemically, biologically nor toxicologically inert.) Inerts form the solution, the dust, or the granule in which the active ingredient is mixed. Oftentimes the inert ingredients are just as toxic as the active ingredient, yet the law allows these materials to remain undisclosed to the public because they are not added to the formulation to specifically kill the target pest and therefore are considered “trade secrets”.

Although inert ingredients require EPA approval to be used, the data required by EPA is much less stringent than it is for active ingredient chemicals. EPA may also allow the product to be registered even though that data may be lacking or inconclusive. In fact, of the over 2300 substances EPA believes are used as “inerts”, most (over 1700) are classified as “of unknown toxicity.” 209 inerts are considered hazardous air and water pollutants (and/or hazardous waste), 14 have been assessed as extremely hazardous, 21 are known or suspected carcinogens, and 127 are regarded as occupational hazards, according to the 1998 report by Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Worst Kept Secrets: Toxic Inert Ingredients in Pesticides. In a 1995 list of inert ingredients, 394 chemicals were listed as active ingredients in other pesticide products.

Beyond Pesticides has been working on the issue of inert ingredients since its inception in 1981 and has a wealth of materials. In 1996, Beyond Pesticides and NCAP filed a large lawsuit against the EPA which opened up the whole issue of inerts. For more information and resources, contact Beyond Pesticides. EPA’s schedule for reassessing food-use tolerances for inert ingredients can be found on their website.

TAKE ACTION: Let the U.S. EPA know your concerns by contacting Mr. Micheal Leavitt, EPA Administrator, by email, phone: 202-564-4711, or fax: 202-501-1470.