(Beyond Pesticides, August 1, 2013) The House of Representatives Appropriations Interior and Environmental subcommittee voted Tuesday 7-4 to approve an appropriations bill that would cut the budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by nearly a third, and includes language that would prevent the agency from enforcing its decision to phase out the use of the neurotoxic fumigant sulfuryl fluoride in our food. The full Appropriations Committee began markups on Wednesday, and, if it passes it will move to a House vote. This is an outrageous attempt to circumvent a basic risk assessment calculation that EPA acknowledges puts the public at risk, given current exposure patterns, to a chemical that is especially hazardous to children.
In response to this egregious attempt to stop EPA from doing its job, Beyond Pesticides, along with Environmental Working Group and Fluoride Action Network submitted a letter to the House Appropriation Committee Chairman and Ranking members:
Dear Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Lowey:
On behalf of our members and supporters we urge you to strike section 449 from the House Fiscal Year 2014 Interior and Environment Appropriations Act. This section will prohibit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from fulfilling its decision to phase-out sulfuryl fluoride food-related uses.
Section 449 on sulfuryl fluoride reads as follows:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Environmental Protection Agency to prepare and finalize an order under section 408 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 346a) 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.
In 2006, Fluoride Action Network, Beyond Pesticides and Environmental Working Group petitioned EPA to revoke all previously approved food-related uses for sulfuryl fluoride.The EPA Office of Pesticide Programs released a revised sulfuryl fluoride human health risk assessment finding that aggregate exposure for infants and children under the age of seven exceeds the chemical’s safe reference dose level. As a result, EPA proposed an order to cancel all allowable pesticide residue levels (tolerances) and phase out all food-related uses of sulfuryl fluoride over a three-year period. Order Granting Objections to Tolerances and Denying Request for a Stay: Sulfuryl Fluoride, 76 Fed. Reg. 3,422 (Jan. 19, 2011).
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. § § 301 et seq., as amended by the Food Quality Protection Act, Pub. L. No. 104-170, 110 Stat. 1489 (1996), requires EPA to ensure that aggregate uses of pesticides meet a health-protective safety standard. EPA must be able to meet its Congressional mandate to protect vulnerable populations such as children from chemical exposures, particularly to chemicals used in pesticides.
Sulfuryl fluoride rapidly breaks down into the fluoride anion in the human body and on treated foods. A 2006 fluoride report by the National Academy of Sciences determined that Americans are at risk of excessive fluoride intake, which could weaken teeth and bones. See Nat’l Academy of Sciences, Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards (2006). NAS also noted an emerging body of science that implicates fluoride in other serious health problems, including neurotoxicity, hormone disruption and the rare bone cancer osteosarcoma. Id.
In view of this finding, and others, sulfuryl fluoride poses a risk to human health. Therefore, we urge the House Appropriations Committee to remove section 449 from the bill. Doing so will ensure that EPA can continue to fulfill Congress’ longstanding interest in protecting children’s health.
The cut comes less than one week after the Senate confirmed Gina McCarthy as the new EPA Administrator. According to Politico, top subcommittee Democrat Jim Moran of Virginia stormed out of the markup, calling the bill a “disgrace.” He estimates that the bill contains 31 “special interest earmarks,” including 13 “brand-new” riders that Republicans didn’t warn him about ahead of time. Nine riders protect the grazing industry; six “limit the EPA from being able to provide clean water”; and four “prevent EPA from implementing clean air regulations.” Rep. Moran said he was not expecting to be blindsided by the new riders, particularly the language prohibiting the EPA from changing its regulations on the pesticide sulfuryl fluoride.
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 proposed 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.
If you have not done so already, 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.
If your organization would like to sign-on to the letter to Congress opposing the Appropriations Bill language prohibiting the phase-out of sulfuryl fluoride, please contact Matt Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.