Illustration by Kiri Rasmussen.
Illustration by Kiri Rasmussen.

Due to a recent resolution, mystery ingredients in pesticides may one day become a thing of the past.

California State Assemblyman Bill Monning, along with Sen. Mark Leno, introduced a resolution last week urging the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) to require pesticide manufacturers to disclose inert ingredients in their products.

Currently, companies must only disclose active ingredients, but inert ones can comprise up to 99 percent of a pesticide. An inert ingredient is any chemical that does not target the pest in question. Pesticide companies maintain that inert ingredients must remain confidential in order to protect their trade secrets.

Monning explained that some inert ingredients can be harmful, and that people should be informed about what chemicals they may be exposed to.

“[Certain inert ingredients] are admitted by the EPA to … pose a health risk,” Monning said. “When you balance the public’s right to know what is being used on crops — what might be in the air we breathe or the food we eat — the public’s right to know should outweigh a manufacturer’s ability to say that inerts should be protected as proprietary.”

In 2007, the California Department of Food and Agriculture ordered the aerial spraying of pesticides in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties to combat the Light Brown Apple Moth, an invasive species from Australia. One of the pesticides used was Checkmate LBAM-F, which is made up of 82.39 percent undisclosed ingredients. In 2009, Cal/EPA revoked the registration for Checkmate LBAM-F and Checkmate ORLF, the two pesticides used in the aerial spraying.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) is one of the branches of the Cal/EPA. CDPR spokesperson Lea Brooks explained that Cal/EPA would not condone the use of any pesticides that were harmful to the public.

“The department knows the inert ingredients, but cannot disclose that information under the law,” Brooks said in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press. “We would not register a pesticide if it cannot be used safely.”

Paulina Borsook is a local activist with Stop the Spray, an organization in Northern California that was created in response to the aerial spraying of pesticides. Borsook said that many people experienced adverse health issues, ranging from flu symptoms to chronic respiratory problems, that coincided with the aerial sprays. Borsook also expressed her frustration at the failure to disclose all chemicals used in the pesticides.

“When I first heard that we were going to get sprayed, I then went and tried to find out what was in it,” Borsook said. “[The CDPR’s] hands were tied because they couldn’t tell us what was in it for intellectual property reasons.”

Monning acknowledged that the controversy with the pesticides used to combat the Light Brown Apple Moth motivated him to go forward with the new resolution.

“The manufacturers did not make available the inert ingredients, and a lot of the public was skeptical of the assurances that there was no potential harm when they weren’t being told the total content of what was being sprayed,” Monning said.

Borsook explained that the resolution is an important step forward in preventing the lack of information that was prevalent during the time of the aerial sprays.

“Transparency is good,” Borsook said. “If we can get disclosure, that’s a place to begin, and I think even getting that will be a real fight.”

If the Cal/EPA follows the recommendations outlined in Monning’s resolution, people will have the ability to know exactly what chemicals they are being exposed to. However, Borsook explained that for those in Santa Cruz who want to know what they were exposed to during the aerial spraying in 2007, the resolution comes too late.

“They wouldn’t disclose the ingredients, they insisted that everything was fine,” Borsook said. “We are never going to know what we were actually sprayed with.”