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Daily News Blog

14
Sep

EPA Confirms PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Leach into Pesticides from Storage Containers

(Beyond Pesticides, September 14, 2022) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is confirming that PFAS (per and polyfluorinated alykyl substances) forever chemicals leach into pesticides from their storage containers, and is taking steps to remove 12 “inert” PFAS ingredients that are currently allowed to be added to pesticide products. The agency’s move is a step toward some measure of health protections from chemicals that may have been widely sprayed throughout many American communities, and have been linked to cancer, liver damage, birth and developmental problems, reduced fertility, and asthma. However, many advocates indicate EPA’s actions on PFAS inerts do not go far enough, and the agency’s findings regarding leaching storage containers are accompanied by no meaningful restrictions on their use.

Following reports and preliminary testing conducted in 2020 showing that PFAS chemicals are present in a widely used mosquito adulticide, EPA began investigating the source of this contamination. Testing on the product Anvil 10+10, produced by the company Clarke, resulted in detection of nine different PFAS chemicals. Early indications indicate that the high-density polyethylene (HDPE) containers used to store pesticides contained PFAS substances on their walls, and that those chemicals are leaching into the liquid pesticides stored in contaminated barrels.

These results led EPA to conduct more comprehensive testing, considering the length of time a pesticide product is stored, and whether the type of liquid stored in the barrel made a difference. At the time, Kyla Bennet, PhD, Policy Director at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, whose testing of the insecticide first raised the alarms, noted that, “EPA’s discovery has opened a Pandora’s Box of health risks.” The findings on HDPE containers have broad implications, as these barrels are often used to store food products. The chilling initial findings that widely used food storage containers may be leaching forever chemicals into America’s food supply forced EPA’s hand, leading the agency to issue a warning to manufacturers, processors, distributors, users, and those that dispose of fluorinated HDPE containers that they may be in violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

As part of EPA’s more comprehensive testing, the agency purchased barrels of fluorinated and non-fluorinated containers from three different manufacturers. For each of the brands, the agency filled one container with water, and anther with methanol (methanol was used to mimic a pesticide). Sampling was conducted at one day, one week, four weeks, 10 weeks and 20 weeks. While the agency tested for 31 different PFAS compounds, many are concerned that this range is insufficient, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates there are over 9,000 different synthetic chemicals that could fall under the term PFAS.

The agency found that leaching occurs with both water and methanol stored in the containers, though methanol generally results in higher levels of PFAS. Levels increase over the course of time, though some brands leach at a random rate, increasing and decreasing over the course of the study. The highest detection is seen at week ten in a fluorinated container labeled ‘Brand A’ by the agency, which recorded 14.72 parts per billion PFAS. EPA indicates that this could be a result of different manufacturers’ production processes, information the agency indicates it did not seek out before testing for each brand. Although the agency indicates that the detection is likely a result of background levels and lab equipment, even non-fluorinated containers measured some level of PFAS leaching  (0.045 ppb) over the course of the 20 week study.

Given that EPA itself has set health advisory levels for certain PFAS in the parts per quadrillion, these results raise significant public health concerns for all Americans. Yet, after this extensive study, the agency announced no substantive measures to rein in their use.

“Unfortunately, EPA’s pace of action on this issue is more glacial than galloping,” said Dr. Bennet of PEER. “Without the threat of a regulatory cudgel, private companies have no incentive – if not a distinct disincentive – to test. EPA should require testing and immediately ban the use of fluorinated containers, especially for food products and pesticides sprayed on food.”

Where the agency did take action surrounded a route of pesticide contaimaition that the agency had already precluded – inerts. Inert ingredients in pesticides are materials intentionally included in a pesticide by the manufacturer, including surfactants, aerosols, propellants, fragrances, dyes, or emulsifiers. Despite the innocuous sounding name ‘inerts,’ these chemicals are often anything but. They could be truly inert, such as cocoa powder or canola oil, or as toxic as formaldehyde or hydrochloric acid. As EPA now admits, the inert ingredient on a pesticide label could have been a PFAS chemical. Despite these potential health risks, the agency does not require manufacturers disclose the full formulation of pesticides sold to consumers.  

According to the agency, the twelve PFAS chemicals removed from EPA’s list of allowed inerts “are no longer used in any registered pesticide product…” Yet, EPA provided no indication of where they may have been used in the past, meaning that many individuals throughout the country may have an old bottle of pesticide containing PFAS. In regards to the chemicals not removed, the Massachusetts Sierra Club notes in a tweet that, “there are at least 13 other remaining fluorinated chemicals such as Teflon that can still be used as ‘inert’ pesticide ingredients, including on food crops.” The group notes examples like chlorofluoromethane, which is not generally considered PFAS but is a closely related fluorinated chemical. Further, there are a range of fluorinated active pesticide ingredients, like broflanilide, pyrifluquinazon, noviflumuron, which meet EPA’s PFAS definition, and fluorinated synthetic pyrethroid bifenthrin, discussed at length in a recent Scientific American article.

While EPA has not been completely silent on the issue, its actions have not yet matched the danger posed by the continued spread of these chemicals. Already, research shows that these chemicals are ubiquitous in rainwater, making it unfit for consumption anywhere around the world and surpassing the earth’s planetary boundary for safety. To date, only the state of Maine has taken meaningful action to ban pesticides containing PFAS chemicals. It is critical for the future of public health and the safety of the food we eat that EPA take more substantive actions on the intersection between PFAS and pesticides. Join Beyond Pesticides or sign up for our alerts today in order to stay up to date on the latest information in this ongoing story.

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

Source: EPA press release (PFAS inerts), EPA press release (PFAS HDPE container study), PEER press release

 

 

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One Response to “EPA Confirms PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Leach into Pesticides from Storage Containers”

  1. 1
    Lynn Ricci Says:

    My heart hopes that the right thing is done for our environment so that ALL living can live their life.❤️

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