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Daily News Blog

09
Aug

“Inert” Pesticide Ingredients and Failure to Regulate Raise Dangers for All U.S. Residents

(Beyond Pesticides, August 9, 2022) The most widely used pesticide chemicals in the United States are not listed on product labels, yet pose widespread environmental and public health hazards, according to commentary published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives by two veteran researchers. At issue are adjuvants and so-called “inert” (or “other”) ingredients, chemicals that are added to formulated pesticide products, but do not undergo the same safety reviews as the active ingredient in pesticide products. This donut hole of regulation has permitted, as the commentary shows, millions of pounds of chemicals to be applied in California and throughout the country without proper scientific evaluation of their human health or ecological impact.

Researchers first draw a distinction between adjuvant products and inert ingredients in pesticide products. Adjuvants are materials specifically designed to improve the performance of a pesticide spray and are sold separately from formulated pesticide products. Adjuvants are “tank mixed” with a pesticide prior its application. Inert ingredients are any ingredient within a formulated pesticide product that is not designed to prevent, destroy, or repel a pest. Adjuvants and inert ingredients can be the same material – the difference lies in when they are added to a formulated pesticide product and the claimed purpose of their use. This distinction is important because researchers utilized data from California’s pesticide reporting system for their review. In California, pesticide adjuvants are required to be registered as pesticides, and their use reported to the state on a monthly basis. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not require this, nor does any other state than California. In California and throughout the country, inert ingredients are minimally reviewed by EPA and added to an inert ingredient database. Pesticide manufacturers can use any inert ingredient in EPA’s inert ingredient database without disclosing that material on the pesticide product label. There are no reporting requirements for inert ingredients in any state.  

An evaluation of California’s pesticide reports finds that among all pesticides and adjuvants registered, 37 of the 100 most widely used pesticides in California are adjuvants. Researchers subsequently zeroed in on the most used material, the adjuvant α-(p-nonylphenyl)-ω-hydroxypoly(oxyethylene) (APNOHO). Over 10 million acres of agricultural land in California is sprayed with APNOHO each year. The chemical is a nonionic surfactant, used to increase the penetration of an active ingredient in attempts to improve a pesticide’s performance. In addition to its registration as an adjuvant in over 150 adjuvant products in California, a freedom of information act request to EPA uncovered it being used as an inert ingredient in over 650 federally registered fully formulated pesticides (including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides).

With no oversight of this chemical, APNOHO use in California has more than doubled over the past 20 years, from just over one million pounds per year in 2000 to 2.2 million pounds in 2019. APNOHO and other chemicals in its class are applied to nearly 12 million acres of farmland in California each year. Between its use as an adjuvant and inert ingredient in other states, there is no telling how much of this chemical U.S. residents are being exposed to each year.  

The widespread use of this material raises a range of health and environmental worries. APNOHO is considered an endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemical by the European Union, yet despite a recent damning report from the EPA Office of Inspector, the U.S. lags far behind in its safety evaluations of these concerning impacts. Out of over 1,300 chemicals that require testing, EPA has issued orders for a scant 52. An analysis in the commentary finds that the little data EPA has produced on APNOHO indicates its hormone disrupting activity is more potent than the active pesticide ingredients and known endocrine disruptors methoxychlor and vinclozolin.

Endocrine disruptors pose a growing risk to the American public; one that is increasing due to a lack of regulation by EPA. These materials function by: (i) mimicking the action of a naturally-produced hormone, such as estrogen or testosterone, thereby setting off similar chemical reactions in the body; (ii) blocking hormone receptors in cells, thereby preventing the action of normal hormones; or (iii) affecting the synthesis, transport, metabolism and excretion of hormones, thus altering the concentrations of natural hormones. Endocrine disruptors have been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, early puberty, infertility and other reproductive disorders, childhood and adult cancers, and other metabolic disorders. 

In addition to effects on the body’s hormonal system, APNOHO is associated with increased risk of birth defects in laboratory and epidemiological studies, including one paper that shows a doubled risk for the birth defect craniosynostosis. The chemical likewise poses significant environmental hazards, with data showing harm to aquatic life greater than that caused by the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid. Researchers note that APNOHO is considered hazardous within other U.S. laws, including the Toxic Release Inventory and Clean Air Act.

To better understand the implications of the widespread use of APNOHO and other inerts and adjuvants, the commentary suggests recommendations both for other researchers and policymakers. For researchers, it is suggested that adjuvants and inerts be included in epidemiological studies, chemical abstract service (CAS) numbers be included for all ingredients in all pesticide products studies  (if unable to discern up front, analytical techniques should be employed to find and identify all ingredients to the greatest extent possible), and all pesticides, inert ingredients, and adjuvants should be evaluated for endocrine-disrupting activity.

Regulators and policymakers are urged to consider health and environmental effects that result from combinations of pesticides, adjuvants, and inert ingredients. It is further recommended that officials in states other than California require registration of pesticide adjuvants. Lastly, the authors note that it has been 25 years since the American Medical Association recommended that pesticide products contain all ingredients on their labels and safety data sheets, making these steps long overdue.

“In the past, improving public access to data about emissions of toxic chemicals has prompted important health and safety improvements,” the authors note, referencing the impact of Toxic Release Inventory data in prompting updates to the Clean Air Act.

Beyond Pesticides is strongly in favor and has been consistently active in efforts to push EPA to fulfill its statutory obligations to review endocrine-disrupting pesticides and increase public health transparency by disclosing all ingredients in pesticide formulations. Take action today to tell EPA to regulate hormone disruption chemicals, and Congress to pass the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA), which would require label disclosure of all inert ingredients in a pesticide.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Environmental Health Perspectives

(Also see: EHP Invited Commentary)

 

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