The formal request -- issued by the attorneys general of Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Rhode Island and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- may be a precursor to a lawsuit.
Currently, pesticide manufacturers are only required to disclose "active" ingredients -- ingredients that kill insects and weeds -- on their labels. "Inert" ingredients are added to make the active chemicals more effective but currently omitted from labeling. While they don't kill pests, these chemicals are suspected to cause cancer, nervous system disorders, birth defects, and liver and kidney damage. Also, ingredients such as organophosphates and carbamates can make their way onto food, where they pose a danger to pregnant women, fetuses, young children and seniors.
New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer stated he could see no justification for the EPA demanding disclosure of active ingredients while allowing the omission of other ingredients that cause harm to both health and the environment.
As the EPA nears completion of a 10-year study of all pesticides used in the United States, the agency claims that U.S. pesticides meet the most stringent standards in the world. The EPA has just determined from the study that Lindane -- a pesticide found in lice shampoos and insecticides, which has been linked to brain tumors in children -- is to be banned as soon as its license expires. This decision lags behind worldwide standards, since 52 other countries have already banned the chemical.
Critics say the EPA does not adequately meet its responsibilities under the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act and is politically biased toward the pesticide industry. Unions representing thousands of EPA scientists sent a letter to the EPA, published in the New York Times' May 24 issue, saying it was "bending to political pressure from the pesticide industry and ignoring sound science in allowing a group of toxic chemicals to be used in agricultural pesticides."
"There's no question about it," says Mike Adams, a consumer health watchdog and frequent critic of government regulatory bodies. "The EPA knowingly and consistently protects the financial interests of private industry at the expense of public health."