(Beyond Pesticides, July 26, 2013) Thousands of people from across the country took action last month to prevent Dow AgroSciences from using its influence to insert Farm Bill language that would allow the food uses of the pesticide sulfuryl fluoride to continue, despite a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to phase it out. Dow’s latest attempt to keep this neurotoxic fumigant in our food is to defund EPA’s ability to regulate its use. Language inserted into the 2014 Interior and Environment House Appropriations Bill will prevent EPA from enforcing its previous decision to phase out the use of sulfuryl fluoride.
According to Section 449 on sulfuryl fluoride, none of the funds made available in the appropriations bill may be used by EPA “that in any way removes, withdraws, revokes, or stays tolerances for the pesticide chemical sulfuryl fluoride if that final order takes into consideration aggregate or cumulative exposure to other substances related to sulfuryl fluoride or its metabolites or degradates.” This will essentially prevent EPA from doing the job Congress assigned to the agency under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which requires that EPA calculate the aggregate risk of exposure to sulfuryl fluoride from all sources, food and water.
Sulfuryl fluoride is neurotoxic. Over 30 published studies have reported an association between fluoride and reduced IQ in children. In addition to its health effects, the chemical has been shown to be a highly potent greenhouse gas. Moreover, it is not necessary for the safe storage and handling of our food supply. In the European Union, the chemical has already been banned from any food contact. In fact, Australia is the only other industrialized country to continue to fumigate food with sulfuryl fluoride, so there is no need to block the currently mandated phase out.
In 2011, EPA completed a draft fluoride risk assessment as a result of the findings of a landmark report by the National Research Council (NRC) on the toxicology of fluoride published in 2006. The report recommended EPA update its fluoride risk assessment to include new data on health risks and better estimates of total exposure. EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs’ (OPP) revised sulfuryl fluoride human health risk assessment found that aggregate fluoride exposure is too high and that aggregate fluoride exposure from treated water, toothpaste, and food-related uses for infants and children under the age of seven years old exceeds its safe reference dose level. In 2006, Fluoride Action Network, Beyond Pesticides, and Environmental Working Group (EWG) petitioned EPA to revoke all previously approved food-related uses for sulfuryl fluoride because of the elevated risks associated with aggregate dietary and drinking water exposure to fluoride.
After completing this risk assessment, EPA proposed an order to cancel all allowable pesticide residue levels (tolerances) and phase out all food-related uses for sulfuryl fluoride over a three-year period. The language in the appropriations bill would prevent EPA from carrying out its statutory duty as mandated by law to protect the American public from unnecessarily high and potentially harmful fluoride exposures.
Sulfuryl fluoride is a dangerous chemical which has been linked to cancer as well as neurological, developmental, and reproductive damages. Since the 2006 NRC report, thirty-two published studies have been identified that have found an association of exposure to fluoride and decreased IQ in children. There are now thirty-seven studies reporting this effect. At the time of its review the NRC committee only cited 5 of these 37 studies. The report noted that fluoride is an endocrine disruptor and has a significantly long half-life in the human bone, which they estimated at 20 years. We are on the verge of getting this hazardous material banned because even EPA, which has agreed to phase out the chemical, recognizes that public exposure exceeds acceptable standards.
There are many viable alternatives to sulfuryl fluoride and methyl bromide fumigation (the other product of choice in the industry), including temperature manipulation (heating and cooling), atmospheric controls (low oxygen and fumigation with carbon dioxide), biological controls (pheromones, viruses and nematodes), and less toxic chemical controls (diatomaceous earth). Many existing grain and commodity storage facilities are simply too old and outdated to effectively prevent pest infestation, leading to a reliance on toxic fumigation. A clean storage or processing facility, fully and regularly maintained, is more easily managed and kept free of pests. Moreover, the chemical is a potent greenhouse gas, with the ability to trap 4,000 to 5,000 times the infrared radiation as carbon dioxide. Neither fumigant is permitted in organic food production and handling.
Please, write and call your Representative and tell him or her to let EPA protect our safety, take this hazardous pesticide out of food production, and shift to safe practices. We do not have to trade our health for corporations that want to continue profiting off of the use of hazardous pesticides in food production.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.