Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 27, 2014. Calling it a response to a petition filed by Beyond Pesticides and other groups back in 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Thursday its proposal to remove 72 no longer used inert ingredients from its list of approved pesticide ingredients –as groups asked for public disclosure of all inerts ingredients in pesticide formulations on product labels. While the proposal is a step in the right direction, ultimately the move is inadequate and misdirected, as the original petition, submitted along with Center for Environmental Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and nearly 20 other organizations, called for the agency to require pesticide manufacturers to disclose 371 inert ingredients on their pesticide product labels. The proposal not only fails to address the issue of disclosure for the rest of the 300 inert ingredients, but also only targets hazardous chemicals no longer being used as inert ingredients in any pesticide formulation, such as rotenone, turpentine oil, and nitrous oxide.
Instead, EPA says that it has “developed an alternative strategy designed to reduce the risks posed by hazardous inert ingredients in pesticide products more effectively than by disclosure rulemaking.” , Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, the agency “will review inert ingredients currently listed for use in pesticides, update that list, establish criteria for prioritization, and select top candidate inert ingredients for further analysis and potential action.”
An inert ingredient is defined as any ingredient that is “not active,” or specifically targeted to kill a pest. According to a 2000 report produced by the New York State Attorney General, The Secret Ingredients in Pesticides: Reducing the Risk, 72 percent of pesticide products available to consumers contain over 95 percent inert ingredients and fewer than 10 percent of pesticide products list any inert ingredients on their labels. The report also found that more than 200 chemicals used as inert ingredients are hazardous pollutants in federal environmental statutes governing air and water quality, and, from 1995 list of inert ingredients, 394 chemicals were listed as active ingredients in other pesticide products. For example, naphthalene is an inert ingredient in some products and listed as an active ingredient in others.
Some inert ingredients are even more toxic than the active ingredients. One of the most hazardous ingredients in the commonly used herbicide Roundup, POEA, is a surfactant, which is classified as an inert and therefore not listed on the label. Researchers have found that POEA can kill human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells.
Despite these uncertainties and potential hazards, pesticide manufacturers are only required to list the active ingredients in a pesticide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA); this leaves consumers and applicators unaware of the possible toxicity present in a vast majority of the pesticide formulations they are using unless the EPA administrator determines that the chemical poses a public health threat.
In 2009, EPA first responded to two petitions, one by led by the Northwest Centers for Alternatives to Pesticides (joined by Beyond Pesticides and other organizations), and a second by 15 State Attorneys General that identified over 350 inert pesticide ingredients as hazardous. The petitioners asked EPA to require these inert ingredients be identified on the labels of products that include them in their formulations.
On December 23, 2009, EPA took another promising step forward with an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), announcing its intention to seek public input on developing an inert ingredient disclosure rule. Putting forth two proposals, one would require listing of all ingredients already identified as hazardous and the other would require listing of all ingredients. EPA has taken no further action since then. As a result, some of the original petitioners filed an “undue delay” complaint against EPA earlier this year for failing to complete rulemaking that would require pesticide manufacturers to disclose the inert ingredients on their pesticide product labels.
In response to that lawsuit, EPA retracted its previous ANPR and intention to move forward with rulemaking. Instead, EPA issued a letter to the original 2006 petitioners describing its intentions to seek non-rulemaking regulatory programs and voluntary disclosure standards, stating, “In sum, [EPA] believe[s] we have identified a more effective and timely way to achieve our common objective; but, because this approach would no longer pursue the rulemaking the EPA initiated via the [ANPR] seeking to mandate the disclosure of potentially hazardous inert ingredients on pesticide labels, as requested in the 2006 petitions, this amended response constitutes a denial of the petitions.”
EPA then used its change of position and denial of the 2006 petition as a basis to have the undue delay lawsuit thrown out because it would no longer be issuing a rulemaking.
For the list of 72 chemical substances and to receive information on how to provide comments, see the Federal Register Notice in docket # EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0558. To access this notice, copy and paste the docket number into the search box at: http://regulations.gov. Comments are due November 21, 2014.
For more about pesticide ingredients, visit What’s in a Pesticide by Beyond Pesticides.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.