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From August 24, 2006                                                                                                        

Doctors, Environmentalists Petition to Disclose Hidden Poisons in Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, August 24, 2006)
A coalition of health, hazardous waste, worker safety, and environmental organizations has filed a legal petition (August 1, 2006), Petition of Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, et al. To Require Disclosure of Hazardous Inert Ingredients on Pesticide Product Labels, challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's policy of secrecy on so-called "inert" ingredients in hundreds of commonly used farm and household pesticides. Attorneys general from 14 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands submitted a companion petition to EPA.

Inert is a term, according to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), used for all pesticide product ingredients except those specifically designed to kill or otherwise harm the product’s target pest. According to Caroline Cox, staff scientist at the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP), "These ingredients are neither chemically, biologically, or toxicologically inert and can be hazardous for human and environmental health." Ms. Cox is the co-author of a recently published peer reviewed scientific study on inerts.

Currently, so-called "inert" ingredients - which make up as much as 99% of many common pesticide products, are kept secret and are not listed on the pesticide labels. The chemicals used as "inerts" include many that EPA has officially determined, under other statutory programs, to be hazardous or toxic. Among these are "inert" ingredients known or suspected to cause cancer, central nervous system disorders, liver and kidney damage, and birth defects, as well as a variety of short term health and ecological impacts. 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. A consumer would never know about their presence in consumer products, under current labeling requirements.

Most pesticide manufacturers claim that the identities of inert ingredients are trade secrets, so there is little information about them that is publicly available. In addition, most of the health and safety testing required for pesticides does not include the inert ingredients.

The coalition's petition, as well as the petition from the attorneys general, asks EPA to require that pesticide labels identify inert ingredients that have been classified as hazardous under a variety of environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act. This would provide information about almost 400 hazardous chemicals in pesticide products.

Ending some of the secrecy about inert ingredients in pesticides will allow people to make better decisions about how they manage pests in their homes and their communities. In addition, it will help physicians treat pesticide-related illnesses. "Poisoned patients deserve prompt and appropriate care by the medical community," said Routt Reigart, M.D., director of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina. "This care is presently hampered by the cumbersome inaccessibility of information about "inert" but toxic substances in pesticide formulations." Howard Freed, M.D. professor of emergency medicine at Georgetown University added, "Physicians could provide better, more efficient health care if more product ingredients were disclosed on product labels."

According to Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, "The EPA is inexplicably misleading the public - allowing hazardous substances in pesticides to be identified simply as ‘inert’. The EPA’s failure to demand disclosure of these harmful substances is unconscionable. These chemicals should be disclosed to consumers so they are fully informed and empowered to protect themselves. Our demand that EPA immediately require that these chemicals are identified on pesticide labels is supported by science and common sense, as well as law."

This petition follows a legal victory in U.S. District Court in October 1996, Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP), et al. v. Carol Browner, Administrator, U.S. EPA (Civil Action No. 94-1100), in which the court ruling stated that “inert” ingredients should not be given blanket trade secret protection by EPA under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The lawsuit focused on six herbicide products, and the court decision was limited to those particular products. The ruling paved the way for anyone to use FOIA to request information about “inerts” on a product-by-product basis. In January 1998, NCAP petitioned EPA to require listing of all ingredients on product labels. In July 2001 the petition was formally denied by EPA.