Groups Say EPA Can Require the Pesticide Industry to Disclose All Hazardous Ingredients to Safeguard Our Health

A new lawsuit is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require pesticide companies to disclose all of the hazardous ingredients in each product. The case, filed by the Center for Environmental Health, Beyond Pesticides, and Physicians for Social Responsibility, points out that the EPA already has the authority to require industry to disclose hazardous pesticide additives, even if they're not designated as the main, "active" ingredients in a product.

In order to make pesticides easier to use, manufacturers almost always mix additives with the product's active ingredient (the one designed to kill weeds or pests). These additional ingredients can make pesticides easier to spray, more readily stick to plant leaves, less likely to wash off in the rain, and last longer in storage.

Often referred to as "inert" or "other" ingredients, additives can make up as much as 80 percent of a pesticide product. The EPA usually doesn't require companies to study these ingredients when registering pesticides for sale, so they are often included in products without being tested for safety.

This lack of safety testing can have significant consequences. A number of scientific studies have shown that the mixture of "inert" ingredients with active pesticide ingredients can cause health problems that the active ingredients do not cause on their own. These mixtures can damage the nervous system, heart and blood vessels, and genetic material like our DNA.

Pesticide companies don't proactively list all dangerous ingredients on product labels, and they're almost never required to do so.

Pesticide companies regularly claim that disclosing specific inert ingredients on a product label would lead to unfair competition because their formulations are "trade secrets." EPA rarely challenges those claims, and companies only list the overall percentage of additives in a product, not the names and percentages of each individual ingredient.

Hiding information about pesticide additives can mislead people into believing that potentially dangerous products are safe. This is not the way our national pesticide law is supposed to work. Americans have a right to know what's in the pesticides for sale at the local hardware store and the chemical mixtures that are sprayed on our food.

We can protect people and our natural resources, but it will require more effective enforcement and chemical industry compliance with the spirit and the letter of the law.

The chemical industry and EPA can take positive steps now to start fixing this problem. EPA should quickly settle the lawsuit with the public interest groups and then restart and finally finish a disclosure rule it initiated back in 1984 (which it has abandoned, revived, and abandoned again over the past two decades). That rule would require pesticide companies to clearly list any hazardous additives on product labels, even if they are not active ingredients.

EPA can also start requiring studies of the 96 potentially toxic pesticide ingredients that it has deemed a "high priority" for testing.

For its part, the chemical industry can drop its longstanding opposition to listing all ingredients on product labels. If they are serious about consumer and community safety, pesticide companies can act now, without waiting for federal requirements to be put in place.

Listing all the dangerous ingredients in pesticides won't automatically make those products safer, but it can increase public pressure on companies and encourage them to develop less hazardous products. It can also empower individuals, farmers, apartment managers, and public agencies to reduce or eliminate their use of the riskiest pesticide products and adopt more sustainable ways of fighting pests and invasive weeds.

For Further Reading:

Rachel Carson Was Right: World Health Organization on Pesticides and Cancer, The Fine Print blog, July 6, 2015

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