Health Activists Call for Full Disclosure on Pesticide Labels

Letter to EPA supports proposal to list potentially toxic “inert” ingredients


Wendy Park, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6725


Caroline Cox, Center for Environmental Health, (510) 655-3900

In a public letter submitted today to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, health and environmental activists endorsed an agency proposal that would require pesticide manufacturers to disclose all the potentially hazardous contents of their products, including so-called “inert” ingredients.

Of particular concern is the lack of comprehensive testing of inert ingredients; when tests are done, they usually look only at active ingredients and fail to analyze the effects when combined with the inert ingredients.

Attorney Wendy Park of the public interest law firm Earthjustice filed the letter on behalf of the Center for Environmental Health (CEH). Park described in detail the risks that consumers currently face when using pesticides that are incompletely labeled. She writes, “… in most cases, the effects are truly unknown, and thus, pesticides may be registered before the effects of their formulations or inert ingredients on health and the environment are fully understood.”

EPA has long recognized the hazards that inert ingredients can pose. As the agency website states, “It is important to note, the term ‘inert’ does not imply that the chemical is nontoxic.” Any substance which is not an active ingredient that targets the pest is considered inert; these chemicals can include solvents that penetrate the plant’s surface, or preservatives that increase the shelf life of the product.

"Nutrition labels are required to tell you how much cholesterol a product has, but pesticide companies can sell products without disclosing that they contain chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other health problems," said Caroline Cox, Research Director at CEH. "It’s far past time for truth in pesticide labeling."

Of particular concern is the lack of comprehensive testing of inert ingredients. In her letter Park points out that when tests are done, these usually look only at active ingredients and fail to analyze the effects when combined with the inert ingredients. These synergistic effects can be potentially more toxic than those caused by any individual ingredient alone. As a result, the full hazards remain unknown. But ingredient disclosure would encourage the public and industry to more fully assess the health effects of inert ingredients and discourage the use of suspected toxic chemicals in pesticides.

Industry defenders argue that the identity of inert ingredients is confidential business information protected by law. Park’s letter refutes this claim, showing that the same law states that EPA is empowered to compel any ingredient disclosure “necessary to protect against an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.”

The environmental groups and EPA are not proposing that all inert ingredients be tested for health effects, only that their presence be disclosed to consumers.

“Having the public bear the potentially enormous health and environmental costs of known hazardous ingredients is plainly unreasonable, where disclosure could protect against that risk at slight cost,” the letter concludes.

The EPA has proposed the new disclosure regulations under the authority of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. EPA is expected to decide whether it will require disclosure of inert ingredients this month.

Read the entire letter to EPA:

Additional Resources

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