Pesticide 101

Pesticide 101:  Why Question the Safety of Synthetic Pesticides?


Some are under the assumption if a pesticide is on the market then it must be safe.  The mission of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) is to protect human health and the environment and we count on the EPA to regulate pesticides to do just that.  We believe it’s important to look at the facts surrounding synthetic pesticide registration as we are unintentionally exposed to pesticides on a daily basis in our food, and on publicly maintained rights of way, parks and schools.  The question of synthetic pesticide safety arises once the registration process is examined and our mission of eliminating synthetic pesticides is based on conscious discovery.


Pesticide law defines a pesticide as “any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest; any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant; and any nitrogen stabilizer.”  “Pesticide” is an umbrella term that includes any chemical that kills plants (herbicides), insects (insecticides), rodents (rodenticides) and fungus (fungicides).


The US EPA is responsible for pesticide registration.  The total pesticide formulation consists of the active ingredient(s) and “other ingredients” called inert ingredients. Only the active ingredient is required to be listed on synthetic pesticide label.  Inert ingredients are not required to be listed on the label, and in most cases, the content percentage of the inert ingredients is much higher than the active ingredient(s).  Additionally, a single inert ingredient may have a higher toxicity level than the active ingredient(s) and because of the lack of disclosure, there is simply no way to know what is in the synthetic pesticide.


To register a synthetic pesticide, the EPA only requires a 90-day scientific study from the manufacturer of the new, untested active ingredient(s) alone, not the total formulation.  In other words, the toxicity of a synthetic pesticide is not studied for all the ingredients combined.  Peer-reviewed independent science has shown the toxicity of the total formulation can be over 100 times higher than the active ingredient alone.  Furthermore, the EPA does not conduct any scientific studies of their own, nor do they consider independent peer-reviewed toxicity scientific studies of the active ingredient. 


A synthetic pesticide is allowed to be sold to the public without studying long-term exposure to humans and environment.  Historically, this has had disastrous end results as made evident by the excessive use of DDT in the 1960s, and more recently glyphosate, the most widely used synthetic herbicide in the world and the active ingredient in Roundup®.  You can find resources on the science of synthetic pesticides here.


Organic pesticides have much stricter guidelines.  Certified organic pesticide ingredients, active and inert, must be on the  Minimal Risk Inert Ingredient list.  The ingredients on the list are not new to the market had have been deemed low toxicity risk.  The USDA defines who governs the ingredients on the list as, “The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is designed by law to advise the National Organic Program (NOP) on which substances should be allowed or prohibited.  Made up of dedicated public volunteers appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, board members include organic growers, handlers, retailers, environmentalists, scientists, USDA-accredited certifying agents and consumer advocates.”


It’s important to understand that the signal word on the label of pesticides are based on acute, not chronic exposure.  While an organic pesticide may have a higher warning label, most likely the active ingredient will not cause long-term health and environmental effects.


25b exempt pesticides pose an even less threat to human and environmental health. The EPA allowed ingredients are considered minimum risk.  Minimum risk 25b exempt products do not require EPA registration and all active and inert ingredients must be disclosed on the label.  Read more about 25b exempt labeling and Nature Thrive® products here.


While it is ideal to not apply any chemical, we understand the complete elimination of all pesticides is not a reality.  However, elimination of synthetic pesticides is a reality.  If the EPA registration process is loose at best, how do we protect ourselves, our pets and the environment from toxic exposure?  The answer is we use the precautionary principal, introduce the concept of risk management and integrated pest management best practices.  Any pesticide should be used as a last result after mechanical (hand-pulling, weed whacking, etc.) means have been exhausted.  If a pesticide must be used, then the least toxic product should be considered. 


In summary, synthetic pesticide manufacturers are creating new active ingredients, the EPA is assessing the safety of the new ingredient on a 90-day study from the manufacturer only.  Then the manufacturers are combining the new chemical with undisclosed chemicals, already deemed toxic to human and environmental health.  Organic pesticides and 25b exempt pesticides are using ingredients deemed minimal risk and the list is closely monitored and reassessed.  It is our mission to identify the safest and most effective pesticides and bring them to the market.