Inert but potent

Three environmental and public health groups represented by Earthjustice filed suit yesterday, asking the U.S. District Court in San Francisco to require the EPA to promulgate final rules requiring public disclosure of specific pesticide ingredients.

inertsThe Center for Environmental Health, Beyond Pesticides, and Physicians for Social Responsibility allege that “unreasonable delay” by the Agency has led to some 350 inert pesticide ingredients, many classified as carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic or potentially toxic, not to be listed on consumer labels.  Because these inert ingredients can be just as hazardous as active ingredients for which the EPA does require label disclosure, and because they can make up almost all of a pesticide’s formulation, the lawsuit argues that the EPA has failed to protect public health under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

An inert ingredient is one that is “not active,” meaning it’s not targeted at killing a pest.  In general, inert ingredients are minimally tested.  Pesticide labels only identify the weight percentage of inert ingredients, and can mislead the public into thinking that they are safe. In 1997, EPA’s own studies found that “many consumers have a misleading impression of the term ‘inert ingredient’ believing it to indicate water or other harmless ingredients.”

More than 20 public health groups and a coalition of state attorneys general petitioned EPA in 2006 to act on this issue.  EPA said in 2009 that it was starting the rulemaking process, according to the lawsuit, but has taken no further action since then.doc labels

PSR joined in the rulemaking petition and in this week’s lawsuit because its doctor members see the impact on public health.  “When pesticide producers refuse to identify all the ingredients in pesticides, doctors are compromised in their ability to treat patients,” said Barbara Gottlieb, Director of Environment and Health at Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). “Immediate access to information on inert substances in pesticides can make a critical difference in patient outcome.”


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