First in a series.
I’ve been working on a single, simple (ha) post for the past three days. This hunt makes me feel a bit like Theseus in the maze, playing out a thread behind him so he’d be able to find his way back—except it seems sometimes that the thread has broken, and I’ll be lost in cyberspace forever, adrift like the unfortunate astronaut in 2001, A Space Odyssey, when the wayward computer Hal snapped his umbilical cord leading back to the mother ship. (A bit of a mixed analogy there. Sorry.)
The topic of the moment is “inert” ingredients in pesticides—you know, the ones that aren’t active. When I try to trace the citations in a paper by Caroline Cox and Michael Surgan (“Unidentified Inert Ingredients in Pesticides: Implications for Human and Environmental Health” –with a name like that it had better be true, because it sure ain’t beautiful.) I find that those sections in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations are either “reserved” (which apparently means unavailable, censored, you know, the old need-to-know-basis thing) or simply missing—absent, gone, etc.
This hunt stems from some of the work I did for the infamous organic lawn article. In the course of writing that, I set out to check a number of what I’ll call “green rumors”: things that you’ll hear over and over about the dangers of pesticides, but that I’d never seen documented. I’d heard, for instance, that it’s not the active ingredient in Roundup that’s dangerous, but the inerts; I’d heard that “inert” ingredients in pesticides are not necessarily inert; I’d heard, of course, that pesticides are dangerous to our health, that many have never been tested by the EPA, that they are sold in products in untested combinations, and that the EPA relies on testing conducted by the manufacturers. Here’s the low-down: every one of these green rumors that I’ve traced to a clear, solid source in EPA documents or in university studies turns out to be true.
But I’m still on the hunt, and the quarry, it seems, is growing more elusive. Wish me luck; it looks like I’ll need it.
The picture shows West Brook Fjord in Newfoundland's Gros Morne Park.