Today, Earthjustice is representing Center for Environmental Health, Beyond Pesticides, and Physicians for Social Responsibility in a case challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to complete rulemaking that would require pesticides manufacturers to disclose the inert ingredients found in their products. An inert ingredient is any ingredient that is “not active,” or not targeted to killing a pest. Frequently these chemicals are more toxic than active ingredients, which manufacturers are required to disclose.
“The EPA said that these inert ingredients should be labeled to protect consumers, but has done nothing to require such labeling. In the meantime, families and children exposed to these chemicals are suffering illnesses their doctors can’t adequately treat because they have no idea what chemicals they are dealing with,” said Wendy Park, attorney at Earthjustice. “The fact is that the EPA has identified hundreds of these ‘inert’ chemicals as hazardous or potentially hazardous. We need a safeguard in place to protect communities.”
Billions of pounds of pesticides are dispersed throughout the U.S. and enter our food supply, homes, schools, public lands and waterways. The public knows very little about the chemicals contained in most of these pesticides because under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), pesticide manufacturers are only required to list “active” ingredients that target a pest and not “inert” ingredients, despite the fact that many inerts are hazardous or suspected toxic chemicals.
As a result, pesticide labels only identify the weight percentage of inert ingredients, which often comprise 50 to 99 percent of a formulation, and mislead the public into thinking that these other “inert” ingredients 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.”
“Pesticides are in the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat. Pesticide companies should not be able to keep us in the dark about the identity and toxicity of these chemicals,” said Caroline Cox, Research Director of Center for Environmental Health.
In 2006, a coalition of 22 NGOs along with 15 state Attorneys General, including California, Illinois, and Massachusetts, filed petitions for a rule requiring disclosure of hazardous inert ingredients. After EPA failed to respond, the Center filed a lawsuit in 2009 to compel EPA to begin the rulemaking process.
Shortly thereafter, the EPA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, soliciting comment on two alternative proposals. One would require listing of all ingredients already identified as hazardous and the other would require listing of all ingredients. The comment period for the proposals closed in April 2010, but EPA has taken no further action since then.
“Consumers and users of pesticide products have a right to know all the ingredients that are in products they purchase so that they can make more informed choices in the marketplace,” said Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides. EPA’s 2010 proposal noted public disclosure “may lead to less exposure to… hazardous inert ingredient[s] because consumers will likely choose products informed by the label.” In turn, “pesticide producers will likely respond by producing products with less hazardous inert ingredients.”
Public comments in favor of the rule included support from doctors. “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. “Immediate access to information on inert substances in pesticides can make a critical difference in patient outcome.”