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Post date: February 16 2001

States Seek Labeling Of All Pesticide Ingredients

New York Attorney General Spitzer, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly and Alaska Attorney General Bruce Botelho today sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to act on an essential public health petition relating to pesticides labeling.

The Attorneys General requested three years ago that the federal agency require pesticide manufacturers to disclose all ingredients in pesticides on product labels. Currently, so-called "inert" ingredients - which make up as much as 99-percent of many over-the-counter pesticides - are kept secret and are not listed on product labels. Hundreds of the 2,300 "inert" ingredients registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are known to be harmful to human health.

"Consumers have a right to know about all the ingredients in the pesticides they use around their homes," said Spitzer. "Full ingredient disclosure will allow consumers to make informed decisions about which products to use or not use. Federal regulations rightly require detailed label information on all ingredients in food, cosmetics and other products. The same standard should also apply to pesticides, which are toxic products that are widely used in our homes, schools and directly on our food."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said: "The feds simply have been irresponsible in abdicating their moral and legal authority. Keeping consumers ignorant about these ingredients is unconscionable and intolerable. In products used around the house, within easy touch and taste of children, disclosure of these poisons can literally be a matter of life or death, whether they are called 'active' or 'inert.'"

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said: "Most people would equate the term 'inert' with harmless. But allowing pesticide manufacturers to label risky chemicals that way is dangerously misleading. The fact is that pesticides contain potentially dangerous ingredients, and consumers have a right to know what those ingredients are to protect them from unnecessary risk."

Janice Adair, Director of the Division of Environmental Health in Alaska, said: "Requiring that the labels on consumer products clearly state the ingredients protects public health and safety. Pesticides in general cause a great deal of public concern, and the fact that some of the most toxic ingredients are not listed on the label is unconscionable."

The EPA requires that pesticide labels disclose only the product's active ingredients; that is, those toxic materials that kill the insect or weed or other target organism. However, pesticides also contain many other ingredients, called "inert," which deliver the active ingredient to the target. Many of these may also be toxic, but the government does not require them to be identified on pesticide product labels. States are pre-empted by the federal government from requiring such labeling for pesticides.

A number of inert ingredients, such as toluene and ethylbenzene, are identified as "hazardous" under other federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Superfund Law. Many inert ingredients are known or suspected to pose serious health risks, including cancer, central nervous system disorders, liver and kidney damage and birth defects, as well as a variety of short- term health and ecological impacts.

Three years ago, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, Massachusetts and other states, submitted a federal petition to the EPA to require full product labeling of inert ingredients. Rather than responding to the petition, the EPA referred the matter to two advisory committees, neither of which have a definite timetable to resolve this pressing issue. After three years, no recommendations have been made to EPA and none are expected in the foreseeable future.

"It is clear that the process EPA has put in place is not going anywhere and should not be a substitute for the agency ruling on a three-year-old petition that is very important to protect public health," said New York Attorney General Spitzer.

The lawsuit filed by the four Attorneys General charges that the EPA has unreasonably and illegally delayed action on a vital health matter and seeks a decision on the three-year-old petition within 60 days.

A similar suit was filed in October 2000 by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. Norma Grier, executive director of the organization, said: "This action by the Attorneys General helps consumers across the country fight for the right to know about what's in these dangerous products."

The Attorneys General filed their lawsuit today in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

For more background information on inert ingredients, see the New York Attorney General's website at: for a May 2000 report, "The Secret Ingredients in Pesticides: Reducing the Risk."

The lawsuit is being handled by New York Assistant Attorney General Karen Kaufmann, Chief Scientist Michael Surgan, PhD, Connecticut Assistant Attorney General Janet Brooks, Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Andrew Goldberg, and Alaska Assistant Attorney General Christopher Kennedy.