Inert Ingredients—EPA’s Disgrace du Jour
Written by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser
On October 23, 2014, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs has published a list of 72 chemicals it proposes to remove from the “Approved Pesticide Inert Ingredient List” (docket # EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0558) and comments are accepted till Nov. 21, 2014.
“We are taking action to ensure that these ingredients are not added to any pesticide products unless they have been fully vetted by EPA,” said Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “This is the first major step in our strategy to reduce risks from pesticides containing potentially hazardous inert ingredients.”
So-called “inert ingredients” in pesticide formulations are materials that have no pesticidal effects of their own but enhance those of the so-called “active ingredient(s)”, the actual pesticidal materials by improving their efficacy. For example, such inert materials are used to improve the solubility of formulations and their ability to spread out on leaves and generally reduce the amount or concentration of the active ingredient needed to do the job. In layman terms, you may think of them as akin to giving your hand-soap a better way to clean your hands with less actual soap.
So, why does EPA want to remove these materials from the list of compounds sanctioned for use as inert ingredients? The short answer is: they seem to have some mental blockage. It will become obvious to you with a few examples of some compounds on this list.
Dioctylphthalate, number 18 on the list, has the Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number (CAS-RN) 117-84-0. This compound has been around for many decades and has been identified by the OECD as a high production volume compound. Its main use is/was as a plasticizer to make and keep plastic materials flexible and useful. For that purpose and all the other uses (e.g. in cosmetics, food packaging, medical products and countless other uses), the world production of this specific compound alone is in the order of a million tons/year and for all phthalates together a multiple of that.
The number of scientific articles on the properties and effects (or lack thereof) of the two dozen or so commercially produced phthalates must number in the hundreds of thousands as well. There is not a government research institute or university where these compounds have not been extensively studied for many decades now. Still EPA has had insufficient time or information to “fully vet” that compound.
Ethane, number 49 on the list with the CAS-RN 74-84-0, is a gas similar to methane and the second-largest component of natural gas. Ethane poses no known acute or chronic toxicological risk and is not a carcinogen. It is a widely used industrial raw material for things like polyethylene and other high volume products. Oh, and ethane has been known for nearly two hundred years and studied at length as well but, still, EPA has not had time to “fully vet” it.
However, if you think that the EPA could not possibly trump the two examples of idiocy above, there is another substance on that list that will bowl you over. The piece de resistance is my third example here, namely argon.
If you have never heard of argon before, don’t be surprised. It is a gas that is present in the earth’s atmosphere at close to 1%; for comparison, the atmosphere also contains 21% oxygen. Argon, number 48 on the list, CAS-RN 7440-37-1, is one of the five common “noble gases” (the others being helium, neon, xenon, and krypton) in the atmosphere. The term “noble gases” was given to these elements to describe their inability to form chemicals of any sort with anything else. They are simply so unreactive that they are physically and chemically stable even under extreme conditions.
For that reason, of course, argon also could not possibly exert any biological effect in organisms of any kind. It would be difficult to think of any “chemical” more benign than argon. As there are no minerals or ores that could be mined for argon, it has to be extracted from the air by using liquefaction at a very low temperature. Of course, after use, for example in a pressure cylinder, the argon will happily return into the air, completely unaltered.
Does EPA deserve Your Confidence?
One sure has to wonder! The examples shown above do not foster any confidence in me, rather the opposite. In my opinion the examples above from this list demonstrate an utter lack of knowledge and understanding of their chemistry.
The news release coming with EPA’s proposal also states that “EPA is taking this action in response to petitions by the Center for Environmental Health, Beyond Pesticides, Physicians for Social Responsibility and others” and “the 72 chemicals are not currently being used as inert ingredients in any pesticide product.”
It seems that EPA simply rubber-stamped some NGO’s “wish list” without giving it any further thought. Why else would they even want to entertain banning the use of a substance like argon, if there is no evidence whatsoever of it being even a potential problem and if it could safely be used as an inert ingredient or propellant?
I think this list is a disgrace for EPA and the country.
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts
Dr. Kaiser can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org