gallery Inert Ingredients, How the Public is kept in the Dark

Pesticide formulations include active and inert ingredients.  Inert ingredients intensify the strength and power of the other ingredients. Pesticides include herbicides, fungicides and any toxic chemical designed with the intent to kill plants, insects, and other life forms.

INERT INGREDIENTS: Secret Toxic Chemicals

Inert ingredients are described as inactive ingredients in pesticide formulas; and because they’re considered trade secrets, labeling is not required in the U.S. However inactive they may seem, they do in fact increase the potency and danger of other ingredients. This is particularly true of glyphosate, the chief ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup.

As printed in Scientific American, “Until now, most health studies have focused on the safety of glyphosate, rather than the mixture of ingredients found in Roundup. But in the new study, scientists found that Roundup’s inert ingredients amplified the toxic effect on human cells—even at concentrations much more diluted than those used on farms and lawns. One specific inert ingredient, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, was more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself – a finding the researchers call astonishing.” see full article

Then there’s Chlorodifluoromethane, once used as a refrigerant and phased out because it depletes the ozone layer, it is now being used as an inert pesticide ingredient. Despite being recognized as a probable human carcinogen, with it’s classification as an “inert” it doesn’t qualify for safety testing, nor will you find it mentioned on the ingredient label.

In any other country this would more than likely be illegal. This is what happens when lobbyists are able to influence politicians and control our regulatory agencies. Support the nonprofit organization Beyond Pesticides in fighting for labeling as well as lessening use of all toxic pesticide ingredients.

From Beyond Pesticides: “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.

In general, inert ingredients are minimally tested despite state, federal and international agencies’ knowledge that they may be hazardous to human health. For example, the U.S. government lists creosols as a “Hazardous Waste” under Superfund regulations, yet allows these chemicals to be listed as inert ingredients in pesticide products. Creosols are known to produce skin and eye irritations, burns, inflammation, blindness, pneumonia, pancreatitis, central nervous system depression and kidney failure. The pesticide naphthalene is an inert ingredient in some products and listed as an active ingredient in others.” See full report

From Environmental Health Perspectives April 2010 Issue, author Bob Weinhold:

Mystery in a Bottle: Will the EPA Require Public Disclosure of Inert Pesticide Ingredients?

For nearly two-thirds of a century, up to 99% of the ingredients in any given pesticide product have legally been hidden from public view, even though many are known to be toxic. The primary impetus has been to protect industry trade secrets. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering what it calls a “sea change” in policy, possibly requiring public disclosure of 100% of a pesticide product’s ingredients. Many factions have a stake in the outcome. Claudia Polsky, deputy attorney general with the California Department of Justice’s Environment Section, says the inability to publicly disclose ingredient information has left California unable to assure its residents that pesticides the state wants to use for various purposes are safe, resulting in lawsuits, injunctions, and protracted negotiations with pesticide manufacturers. Susan Smolinske, director of the Regional Poison Control Center at the DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan, says, “We get calls where the lack of [ingredient] information results in a delay in treatment. It does cripple us.” And Aimee Code, water quality coordinator for the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, says all ingredients need to be on the label because “[consumers] make choices based on that.” continue reading


According to the the National Institutes of Health and the EPA, consumers have been misled about the danger of inert ingredients and pesticides in general.

Pesticides are toxic chemicals that are both ubiquitous and unique. Unlike other toxic chemicals, they are designed to kill, repel, or otherwise harm living organisms [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2005c], and they are one of the few toxic substances that are intentionally applied to the environment [National Research Council (NRC) 1993]. Monitoring programs conducted in the United States have found pesticides in “one or more samples from every stream sampled” (Gilliom et al. 2006), in > 70% of common foods [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2006], and in over half of adults and children (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2005).

In the United States, the regulatory system for pesticides differs from other toxic chemical regulatory programs. Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA 2002), active ingredients—those which “prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate any pest”—are subject to greater scrutiny than inert (or sometimes other) ingredients (U.S. EPA 1997). The combination of active and inert ingredients, as marketed and used, is called a formulation (U.S. EPA 2006b). Most countries surveyed by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) make a similar distinction, although terminology can be different: “adjuvants” and “formulants” are sometimes used to describe inert ingredients, and formulations can be called “preparations” (OECD 1994, 1998).

In ordinary usage, the word “inert” refers to something that is physically, chemically, or biologically inactive. The U.S. EPA recognizes that the statutory nomenclature for pesticides under FIFRA engenders public misunderstanding, stating that “many consumers have a misleading impression of the term ‘inert ingredient,’ believing it to mean water or other harmless ingredients” (U.S. EPA 1997). In fact, an inert ingredient “may have biological activity of its own, it may be toxic to humans, and it may be chemically active” (U.S. EPA 2002). The arbitrary distinction between active and inert ingredients is well illustrated by the > 500 inert ingredients that, according to the U.S. EPA (2006a), have been or are currently used as active ingredients.

A significant proportion of typical pesticide formulations are inert ingredients. In a survey of over 200 common household products in retail stores in Oregon, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP 2006b) found that these products contained on average 86% inert ingredients. Similar results were found in surveys of products for sale in New York in 1990, 1997, and 1999 (Surgan and Gershon 2000). Agricultural products also contain a significant proportion of inert ingredients. In a review of over 100 agricultural products, NCAP (2006a) found that they contained an average of > 50% inert ingredients.

Go to the NIH site to read more

The control of labeling and legality or toxic pesticides falls under The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), a cornerstone of pesticide regulation that was implemented in 1947, set up a technical distinction between “active” and “inert” ingredients in pesticide products. Active ingredients are defined as those that are intentionally added and designed specifically to kill or control the target pest. All other ingredients, such as fragrances, dyes, aerosol propellants, solvents, desiccants, carriers, and other substances, are defined as inert.

Under FIFRA only active ingredients must be named on pesticide product labels. All inert ingredients, which can constitute more than 99% of a product, can be lumped together under the category of inert or other ingredients and listed simply as a percentage of the product’s total weight. According to the EPA, there are currently more than 1,000 active ingredients and about 4,000 inert ingredients in use.

FIFRA generally allows the identity of inerts to be kept secret to protect confidential business information. However, manufacturers must divulge all ingredients to the EPA. FIFRA gives the agency the option of requiring such ingredients to be listed on the label if they “pose a hazard to man or the environment.” Historically, however, the agency has interpreted FIFRA language primarily in favor of protecting confidential business information.

The EPA and others acknowledge the term “inert” is often popularly perceived to mean “harmless.” But as noted in 2 petitions filed in 2006 asking the EPA to disclose hazardous inerts, at least 374 such ingredients are known to present a risk of injury to human health or the environment, as determined by the EPA or other federal agencies. Among these are coal tar, dibutyl phthalate, glutaraldehyde, hexane, hydrochloric acid, kerosene, naphthalene, nitric acid, xylene, and numerous petroleum distillates and fuel oils. A further 1,863 inerts were of unknown toxicity at the time the petitions were filed. The petitions also noted that 455 substances on the EPA inerts list are also in the Hazardous Substances Data Bank, which tallies potentially toxic substances and is maintained by the National Library of Medicine. Furthermore, 516 ingredients currently used as both active and inert ingredients (depending on the product) are listed only on those products in which they are deemed active ingredients, regardless of toxicity. The EPA says it does not have current numbers for any of these categories. continue reading 

Click here to gain a better understanding of rules and regulations that govern pesticide use in the U.S. From the Encyclopedia of Earth:

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), is one of two major federal pesticide statutes which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for implementing. FIFRA governs the sale and use of pesticide products within the United States.

The other major statute is the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), which limits pesticide residues on food in interstate commerce (including imports).

Pesticides are broadly defined in FIFRA Section 2(u) as chemicals and other products used to kill, repel, or control pests. Familiar examples include pesticides used to kill insects and weeds that can kill, reduce the yield, and sometimes harm the quality of agricultural crops, ornamental plants, forests, wooden structures, and also pastures. But the broad definition of “pesticide” in FIFRA also applies to products with less familiar “pesticidal uses.” For example, substances used to control mold, mildew, algae, and other nuisance growths on equipment, in surface water, or on stored grains are pesticides. The term also applies to disinfectants and sterilizing agents, animal repellents, rat poison, and many other substances. EPA estimates that as of May 2003, there were about 19,107 pesticide products currently in use. (Note 1.) These all are regulated under FIFRA, but approximately 6,502 pesticide products used in food production also are regulated under the FFDCA. Read more 

It looks like we’ll have to amend FIFRA in order to get inert pesticides labeled properly, better yet maybe we should just ban them and lessen use of pesticides overall.

To gain an even further understanding of the history of FIFRA and the exploitation and roll out of poisonous pesticides in the U.S. take a gander at Christopher Bosso’s book, Pesticides and Politics. View a digital version here or order through Amazon.

pesticides and politics


One comment

Comments are closed.