Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Pesticide Industry Resists Calls to Reveal Inert Ingredients

Pesticide manufacturers are pushing back against increasing consumer and environmental advocacy group demands for disclosure of the chemicals in pesticide formulations—claiming the information is proprietary.

Of particular interest are the so-called inert ingredients such as chemicals in pesticides that perform functions other than controlling pests. Examples include emulsifiers, solvents, aerosols, fragrances, dyes and other chemicals that are not necessarily benign, according to those calling for mandatory labeling of inert ingredients in pesticides.

Inert ingredients added to pesticides that are not used on food require less scrutiny by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including less toxicity data submitted to the agency to gain regulatory approval than those pesticides used on food.

Pesticides not used on food consist of wood preservatives, antifouling coatings for boats, rodent control chemicals, pet products such as flea and tick repellents and chemicals used to control pests on ornamental plants.

Beginning in fiscal 2013, Congress authorized the EPA to collect fees from companies that seek approval of new inert ingredients in pesticides. The agency uses the money to pay for its assessment of the health and safety risks associated with each new ingredient. However, lawmakers also made the approval process more complicated by creating 10 categories for inert ingredients, each with a different application fee and different data requirements.

Afterward, the EPA saw a spike in submissions in 2014 from companies seeking approval of new inert ingredients for non-food-use pesticides. The agency rejected a few inert ingredient applications in 2014 because companies selected the wrong category for their submissions. When companies submit deficient applications for approval of a new inert ingredient, the EPA’s decision on the chemical is delayed and companies can lose the money they paid in fees, which can be significant—ranging from a few thousand dollars up to more than $10,000, depending on the category. Industry groups claim that the new system is difficult to navigate, and are requesting better guidance from the EPA about the data requirements for new inert ingredients.

Last year, the EPA proposed to remove 72 chemicals from its list of approved inert ingredients that can be added to pesticide formulations. The agency claims that none of the 72 chemicals is currently used as an inert ingredient in any pesticide product. The list includes common organic solvents such as methyl ethyl ketone and tetrahydrofuran, as well as phthalate derivatives, nonylphenol, as well as several inorganic compounds.

Both environmental and pesticide industry groups are unhappy with the EPA’s proposal. Environmental groups claim it fails to address the issue of disclosure for the rest of the 300 inert ingredients that the petitioners want companies to disclose, instead targeting hazardous chemicals no longer being used as inert ingredients in any pesticide formulation. Groups representing pesticide manufacturers say that the EPA does not have the data to show that the 72 chemicals are no longer used as inert ingredients in any pesticide product on the market. These industry organizations successfully convinced the EPA to extend the comment period on the proposal so companies have more time to determine whether any of the 72 chemicals are used in their formulations.

Late last year, activists from, joined by concerned citizens in cities around the country rallied outside Lowe’s Stores in an effort to build awareness of the company’s lack of action to eliminate bee-killing pesticides—known as neonics—from it stores and supply chains. More than 750,000 people in the United States and around world joined with to call on Lowe’s shareholder and executive leadership to stop selling the pesticides. In conjunction with the rallies, activists around the country plan to create a “swarm” on Twitter, pressuring Lowe’s to take action.

In 2013, the EPA announced it had screened nearly 2,000 chemicals currently in use, marking an important milestone in communicating and improving understanding of the impact chemicals have on human health and the environment. Along with announcing the availability of data on these chemicals of concern, the EPA announced the ToxCast Data Challenges, a series of challenges inviting the science and technology community to help provide solutions for how new chemical screening data can be used to predict potential health effects.


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