(Beyond Pesticides, April 27, 2017) Multinational chemical companies Dow Chemical Company and Shell Chemical Company knowingly sold and marketed fumigants contaminated with a cancer-causing chemical that had a strong propensity to leach into and remain in groundwater, according to a recent report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and a lawsuit against the companies. The contaminant of concern, 1,2,3-trichloropropene (TCP), was a manufacturing by-product found in Dow’s Telone and Shell’s D-D fumigant pesticide products with the active ingredient 1,3-Dichloropropene. The products, used to kill soil-dwelling nematodes, are toxic in their own right, but contained TCP in their formulation from the 1940s until the mid-1980s.
EWG’s report details widespread contamination of drinking water in California’s agricultural regions, with detections found in 562 wells, and 94 public water systems identifying TCP above legal limits. Thirty-seven additional public water systems serving nearly 4 million U.S. residents throughout the country were also found to contain TCP. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has never set maximum contaminant levels for TCP in drinking water, but requires public reporting above the infinitesimally small amount of 30 parts per trillion, roughly six times higher than what the state of California requires. However, even proposed limits of 5 parts per trillion in California, which would represent the lowest in the nation, a cancer risk of 1 in 143,000 would be permitted.
As a result of the widespread contamination in California, 33 communities in the San Joaquin Valley are suing Dow and Shell for this contamination. Their lawsuit aims to have the companies clean up the chemical from their water supply, alleging the companies knew full well about the health impacts of contaminants in their product yet opted to save money by ignoring documented risks. A 1983 internal Shell memo cited in EWG’s report indicates that the company saved $3.2 million in “cost avoidance” annually by neglecting to properly dispose of TCP. While the companies indicate they are not at fault because their products were approved for use by EPA and the state of California, the report indicates the companies have quietly settled with a number of communities without fully admitting guilt.
Issues of pollution and contamination learned long after the fact regarding pesticide use is far too common in the United States. Past formulations of the herbicide 2,4-D were known to be contaminated with the chemical 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), a highly potent human carcinogen. Although new technologies aimed to eliminate TCDD from occurring as a by-product in the manufacturing process, EPA indicates is has little data on current contamination levels, meaning the threat still remains for the commonly used herbicide. Likewise, the antibacterial chemical triclosan, which was recently eliminated from consumer soap products, has been found to breakdown into toxic carcinogens like chloroform and 2,8-dichlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (2,8-DCDD).
Groundwater contamination is also a historical and frequent concern with conventional pesticide use. The herbicide atrazine has been a particular concern in recent years. In 2012, the chemical’s manufacturer, Syngenta, reached a $105 million settlement with community water systems in 45 states in order to pay for the cleanup of this chemical in their water supply. And as evidenced by a recent report on widespread contamination of neonicotinoid insecticides in the nation’s drinking water, another emerging threat for community water systems may be on the horizon.
As EWG’s report and recent evidence shows, the chemical industry has learned no lessons from its past experiences, and shows no evidence of acting responsibly to protect or improve public health. Given evidence of serial contamination and coverups, it behooves concerned individuals to support food production systems that do not rely on the regular use of these toxic pesticides. By purchasing organic at the grocery store, you support an agricultural system that aims to rely on natural and ecological pest management, and use even least-toxic pesticides as a last resort. Soil is not fumigated to become sterile, but improved to promote microbial diversity and build resiliency from pests and diseases. Learn more about the benefits of supporting a safer agriculture system through Beyond Pesticides’ Why Organic webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Environmental Working Group