Web Exclusive: Moth Pheromone products’ health impacts are still uncertain.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
It’s not the synthetic sex scent that bugs residents opposed to the aerial spraying so much as its packaging – the so-called inert ingredients that encase the moth pheromones in pollen-sized time-release capsules.
Biopesticide manufacturer Suterra, LLC, initially kept the lists of inert ingredients in CheckMate OLR-F and CheckMate LBAM-F from the public, claiming they are protected as trade secrets. But a series of lawsuits (one involving the Weekly) forced the question of whether people have a right to know what’s being sprayed over their heads. Under direction from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state Department of Pesticide Regulation finally released the list of inerts in the CheckMate products.
In legal declarations for the plaintiffs in anti-spraying lawsuits, two toxicologists weigh in on the safety of the CheckMate inert ingredients. Neither sounds major alarms, but both note that some of the chemicals could be hazardous to people or the environment, depending on the dose. Several of the inerts are not well studied, they add. The declarations weren’t enough to persuade judges to halt the spraying.
Even if the courts aren’t convinced that the CheckMate products are dangerous, Pacific Grove naturopathic doctor Belinda Icenhower is. After compiling chemical information from industry-issued Material Safety Data Sheets, International Chemical Safety Cards, the Pesticide Action Network North America database, government documents and peer-reviewed journals, Icenhower concludes that every inert ingredient in CheckMate LBAM-F poses potential health hazards, based on animal studies.
Ammonium and sodium phosphates (ingredients in baking powder and baking soda) can irritate or burn the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. So can tricaprylyl methyl ammonium chloride, which is used to mothproof clothing and degrades into chemicals that are more environmentally toxic. Polyvinyl alcohol, used to coat pharmaceutical tablets, has caused cancerous tumors in lab animals. It’s also labeled as an irritant – as is another CheckMate inert, butylated hydroxytoluene, which may be linked to a spectrum of symptoms including asthma, gene mutations and cancer. The prosecution notes that BHT is a common food preservative.
The little-studied 1,2-benzisothiozolin-3-one, a germicide, is considered highly toxic to green algae and marine invertebrates, according to a 2005 EPA re-registration document. And while there’s not much data on UV-absorbing 2-hydroxy-4-n-octyloxybenzophenone, the family of chemicals to which it belongs is linked to the disruption of hormones including estrogen, according to a 2003 report in the Journal of Health Science.
Icenhower alleges that the state misleadingly uses toxicity information related to ingestion, but people are more likely to breathe the pheromone spray. “It was just not meant to be used in this way, and we’re being tested upon,” she says. “They’re-violating our rights, and they know it’s toxic.”
Officials maintain that CheckMate’s inerts are of very low toxicity as they’re currently applied. CheckMate contains no known neurotoxins, was found in an independent study not to affect marine mussel development, and is approved for use on certified organic crops.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers CheckMate a pesticide because it’s designed to control a pest; but rather than killing light brown apple moths, the product just blitzes the males out on sex fumes so they can’t find the ladies. As a result, reproduction rates drop.
According to Suterra president Steve Hartmeier, inert ingredients other than water make up about 3 percent of the CheckMate products. Neither the company nor the state will reveal the concentrations of the individual inerts. Because CheckMate LBAM-F is a new product that had never been sprayed over residential areas before its October application on the Monterey Peninsula, there isn’t any existing science on its long-term health effects.