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Daily News Blog

20
Jan

EPA Confirms Widespread PFAS Contamination of Pesticides, Announces “Investigation,” Stops Short of Action to Protect Public

(Beyond Pesticides, January 20, 2021) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed that PFAS (per and polyfluorinated alykyl substances) ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating containers that store pesticide products, and subsequently the products themselves. The confirmation comes after preliminary testing from the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) found PFAS in the widely used mosquito pesticide Anvil 10+10. In response EPA announced further investigation and said, “EPA understands the need to provide guidance to states, tribes, and other users as they prepare to purchase mosquito control products for 2021 and will provide more information as it continues its investigation. EPA will update the following webpage with information as it becomes available: https://www.epa.gov/pesticides/pfas-packaging.”

“EPA’s discovery has opened a Pandora’s Box of health risks,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, PhD, whose testing of the insecticide first raised the alarms, according to the EPA statement.  “Shipping containers may be a significant source of PFAS exposure through the entire U.S. agricultural sector.”

According to EPA, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) containers used to store and transport pesticides are commonly treated with fluoride in order to create a “chemical barrier” that will “prevent changes in chemical composition.” The fluorinated container is supposed to be more stable, and “less permeable, reactive, and dissolvable.”

Testing so far has been limited to one pesticide product supplier (likely the company Clarke, maker of Anvil 10+10), but resulted in detection of 9 different PFAS chemicals at levels the agency has not yet released. Earlier testing found PFAS chemicals well above safety limits established by states, as well as EPA’s health advisory.

Although the agency cautions that recent testing is not a direct measure of levels likely to be found in the environment, advocates note that repeated spraying of contaminated products are likely to result in significant non-point source pollution. Because of its nature as a ‘forever chemical,’ PFAS does not break down in the environment, and any pollution becomes cumulative.

There are also indications that fluorinated HDPE containers may have other storage uses, such as food packaging. EPA announced that it is subpoenaing the company that fluorinates HDPE containers under the Toxic Substances Control Act, but has done little else from a regulatory standpoint. States with stocks of Anvil 10+10 in HDPE barrels are being to encouraged to “red tag that inventory and hold for now.”  It is unclear what, if any further actions will be taken by the agency.

“This development only underlines how inadequate and haphazard EPA’s approach to this emerging contaminant has been,” added Dr. Bennett of PEER, pointing to the more substantive regulatory approach being pursued in Europe. “All unnecessary uses of PFAS need to be banned.”

Contamination of a toxic product with other harmful chemicals is glaringly problematic for public health and the environment. Mixtures of different chemicals can result in synergy that may increase or decrease the toxicity of a pesticide, or result in other changes to its characteristic, for example making it easier to penetrate through skin or plant material.

Past contamination scandals have plagued the pesticide manufacturing process. For example, DuPont was subject to a series of lawsuits two decades ago after its Benlate fungicide was contaminated with the toxic herbicide atrazine following quality control problems at its production plant. The Vietnam era chemical Agent Orange was contaminated with the dioxin TCDD (2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzodioxin), produced as a by-product of its manufacture.

Contamination of widely used storage and transportation containers with chemicals that have been linked to cancer, liver damage, birth and developmental problems, reduced fertility, and asthma is a scandal without compare. It is unclear how long such a practice has been commonplace without any regulatory oversight. What is certain is that the next administration will have a massive challenge ahead in getting an adequate handle on the depth and scope of PFAS contamination. President Biden’s pick for EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, has taken action against PFAS in his home state of North Carolina. Advocates are urging that this past experience will inform a stricter regulatory approach against PFAS and other toxic chemicals and pesticides under EPA’s purview.

Join Beyond Pesticides in urging the incoming administration to restore science to its rightful place. In light of serious weakening of the agency over the last four years, and years of corporate influence before that, help call on the agency to halt new pesticide registrations. This will provide time for EPA to review the science supporting existing registrations and confirm to the public it is not manipulated or corrupt. See Beyond Pesticides’ Action of the Week archive for more ways to engage with the incoming administration.

 All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: EPA, PEER

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