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The Greenwash Brigade

Eco-labeled pesticides! Are your hands on fire yet?

Heidi Siegelbaum Nov 5, 2008

As I write, millions of you are using EPA-registered pesticides, likely without knowing it, in a marketing-induced frenzy to rid the world of teensy weensy little microorganisms — things like bacteria, fungi and viruses. The hyped marketing isn’t necessary but disinfecting is, as the real-world disease implications are serious.

This fall, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is convening a work group that will discuss allowing companies to make green claims or use eco-labels for disinfectants and sanitizers. Disinfectants and sanitizers are antimicrobials (pesticides), or agents which prevent/destroy/repel/mitigate these pests and they have to be registered by the EPA and used in very particular ways and at very particular dilutions. And be careful with those alcohol-based sanitizers because they are flammable- women with static electricity from stockings watch out!

You may soon be able to spend hours in the cleaning aisle of the grocery store looking at waves, bunnies, earths, check marks and other eco-claims you may (or may not) understand for all those robust disinfectants and sanitizers.

If the EPA, the progressive ISSA (the worldwide cleaning industry association, which is a strong partner with EPA, Design for Environment Safer Detergent Stewardship Initiative, who was recently awarded Championship status by the agency), and other non-profits and academic organizations do their job right, they could harmonize all third-party criteria for environmentally preferable or “green” disinfectants and sanitizers. And good luck! Otherwise, we could start seeing very confusing or contentious claims on products which, well… are designed to kill.

Some would argue there is no room for such claims but there is indeed a difference between what’s in these products. I would prefer that EPA change its own criteria to prohibit these pesky little problematic elements that pose risks from cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption to asthma, permanent eye damage, dizziness and fatigue.

The End of Cause Marketing on Pesticides!!

For as long as there’s been a pesticide program, EPA has clearly and flatly prohibited the use of eco-labels or third party logos on pesticides. However, in what some consider an outrageous departure from this policy, the agency permitted Clorox to feature The American Red Cross® logo on its bleach in 2007, followed by the Sierra Club label on the new GreenWorks® shortly thereafter.

In a fascinating self-reversal (spurred by hostile adverse comments and Minnesota’s refusal to allow such labeled products in commerce), EPA just withdrew its notice, and obviously permission, about third-party endorsements and cause-marketing label statements. Note this didn’t include ecolabels which may open the door to green marketing for pesticides…organic tobacco, anyone?

At this point, you will no longer see non-profit logos on products but you may see an eco-label on disinfectants and sanitizers in the future. All I can say is read the label carefully — very carefully– and keep this number handy: (800) 858-7378, the National Pesticide Information Center and remember your friends at Tufts University and Beyond Pesticides.

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