Center for Environmental Health, Oakland, California, USA.
Background: By statute or regulation in the United States and elsewhere, pesticide ingredients are divided into two categories: active and inert (sometimes referred to as other ingredients, adjuvants, or coformulants). Despite their name, inert ingredients may be biologically or chemically active and are labeled inert only because of their function in the formulated product. Most of the tests required to register a pesticide are performed with the active ingredient alone, not the full pesticide formulation. Inert ingredients are generally not identified on product labels and are often claimed to be confidential business information.
Objectives: In this commentary, we describe the shortcomings of the current procedures for assessing the hazards of pesticide formulations and demonstrate that inert ingredients can increase the toxicity of and potential exposure to pesticide formulations.
Discussion: Inert ingredients can increase the ability of pesticide formulations to affect significant toxicologic end points, including developmental neurotoxicity, genotoxicity, and disruption of hormone function. They can also increase exposure by increasing dermal absorption, decreasing the efficacy of protective clothing, and increasing environmental mobility and persistence. Inert ingredients can increase the phytotoxicity of pesticide formulations as well as the toxicity to fish, amphibians, and microorganisms.
Conclusions: Pesticide registration should require full assessment of formulations. Evaluations of pesticides under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and similar statutes should include impact assessment of formulations. Environmental monitoring for pesticides should include inert ingredients. To enable independent research and risk assessment, inert ingredients should be identified on product labels.
[PubMed – in process]