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Daily News Blog

03
Nov

California Petition Seeks Removal of Hazardous Fumigant Linked to Climate Crisis

(Beyond Pesticides, November 3, 2022) In a fight against global warming, environmental groups Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR) filed a formal legal petition in October 2022 urging the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to phase out the use of sulfuryl fluoride insecticides. Sulfuryl fluoride is a fluoride compound with various adverse health effects, including cancer, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity (reduced IQ), and reproductive damage. CARB added sulfuryl fluoride to its list of “short-lived climate pollutants,” being the only state to do so since 1990. However, California does not include sulfuryl fluoride in the list of GHG emissions to reduce by 2020 as researchers were unaware the chemical was a greenhouse gas (GHG) until 2008. These termite and food use insecticides are 4,800 times more potent GHG than carbon dioxide at trapping carbon in the atmosphere. Furthermore, sulfuryl fluoride has high global warming potential and can remain in the atmosphere for more than 36 years.

The case of sulfuryl fluoride presents an all too familiar pattern of widespread chemical use without proper knowledge of health and environmental effects before implementation and a failure to take regulatory action on known hazards after allowed in commerce. Therefore, CBD’s environmental health legal director Johnathan Evans, senior attorney, states, “Phasing out sulfuryl fluoride would provide the same climate benefits as taking one million cars off our roads every year… California’s air regulators have a legal and moral obligation to reduce greenhouse gases that are helping to drive catastrophic global warming.”

Sulfuryl fluoride, registered for termite and other wood-boring pest extermination in 1959, gained additional attention as a potential alternative to methyl bromide, a broad-spectrum insect fumigant. Ninety-nine percent of structural fumigation treatments use sulfuryl fluoride. However, researchers have identified concentrations of sulfuryl fluoride in the atmosphere due to the chemical’s long half-life and greenhouse warming potential (GWP). Recent work from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) demonstrates North America was the leading global source of sulfuryl fluoride emissions in 2019. The risk of multiple chemical contaminants in the atmosphere increases as global warming progresses. Melting glaciers can release persistent organic pollutants into waterways. Recently, pesticides and fertilizers overtook the fossil fuel industry in environmental sulfur emissions. Thus, health and environmental concerns will increase significantly, especially for individuals and ecosystems more vulnerable to the toxic effects of chemical exposure.

Following the 2022 report, “Termite Fumigation in California Is Fueling the Rise of a Rare Greenhouse Gas,” researchers demonstrate that sulfuryl fluoride increases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although most sulfuryl fluoride emissions in the U.S. occur in California, most global emissions also occur in California. According to the most recent data from the California Department of Pesticide Regulations, sulfuryl fluoride is the 12th most used pesticide applied to sites across California, with over 2.9 million pounds used in 2018 for structural and agricultural pest control and over three million pounds used statewide in 2021. Although 50 to 60 percent of sulfuryl fluoride emissions mainly occur in California, researchers suggest that other states, like Florida, may also produce emissions that remain unaccounted for by current National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chemical tracking.

Similar to this petition, Beyond Pesticides, and others maintain that without the phase-out of sulfuryl fluoride, there will be no incentive for grain storage facilities to upgrade and adopt modern practices that forego hazardous chemical use. In addition to the phase-out of sulfuryl fluoride, the petition also seeks to add this fumigant to California’s greenhouse gas emission inventory for better monitoring.

The history of sulfuryl fluoride has pitted one chemical use against another, instead of incentivizing movement away from chemical dependency to viable alternative and organic management practices. For example, in 2011, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sent a letter to EPA stating its opposition to EPA’s phase-out of the toxic fumigant pesticide, which is marketed as a substitute for the outdated, ozone-depleting methyl bromide. EPA’s action was in response to a 2006 petition from Fluoride Action Network (FAN), Beyond Pesticides, and Environmental Working Group (EWG). According to its letter, NRDC believes that the “proposed action will imperil EPA’s ability to complete the long-overdue phase-out of methyl bromide, leading to prolonged and increased depletion of the ozone layer, higher levels of ultraviolet radiation, and higher risks of cancer, cataracts, and immunological disorders.” NRDC was objecting to EPA’s announcement to cancel all allowable pesticide residue levels (tolerances) for sulfuryl fluoride over three years, effectively banning its use in January 2014.

The agency found that when residues on food products are combined with fluoridated drinking water and toothpaste, aggregate exposure levels are too high. Beyond Pesticides has repeatedly pointed to nontoxic practices that have eliminated the need for either hazardous fumigant throughout the petition process. Despite this, in 2014, buried in the Agriculture Act of 2014 (the “Farm Bill”), Congress adopted an amendment at the behest of those seeking to keep sulfuryl fluoride on the market that prohibited EPA from moving against the chemical. For a more in-depth history on this, see When Politics Trumps Science and Health Suffers.

The current petition concludes, “Now that it is known and well supported by science that sulfuryl fluoride is a highly potent greenhouse gas that can remain in the atmosphere for 36 years, and there are viable alternatives to the fumigant, Petitioners request that CARB 1) initiate a rulemaking to include sulfuryl fluoride in California’s annual statewide greenhouse gas inventory pursuant to AB 32 and 2) initiate a rulemaking to phase out the use of sulfuryl fluoride.”

As the climate emergency continues, banned and current-use pesticides put human and animal health at risk upon release into the atmosphere and waterways. If pesticide use and manufacturing amplify the impacts of the climate crisis, advocates argue that pesticide policy and regulation must address and eliminate chemical use. There are many viable alternatives to sulfuryl fluoride and methyl bromide fumigation. These alternatives include temperature manipulation, atmospheric controls, biological controls, and less toxic chemical controls (diatomaceous earth). Many existing commodity storage facilities are too old and outdated to prevent pest infestation. This ineffectiveness leads to a reliance on toxic fumigation. Thus, a clean, regularly-maintained storage or processing facility can easily keep facilities pest-free.

The European Union already bans sulfuryl fluoride from any food contact. Thus, switching from chemical-intensive agriculture to regenerative organic agriculture can significantly reduce the threat of the climate crisis by eliminating toxic, petroleum-based pesticide use, building soil health, and sequestering carbon. Current organic food production and handling do not permit conventional pesticide use, including fumigants like sulfuryl fluoride. Therefore, organic production reduces greenhouse gas emissions from chemical use. Learn more about how switching to organic management practices can mitigate the climate crisis by reading Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming. For more information about organic food production, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Keep Organic Strong webpage. Learn more about the adverse effects chemical-intensive farming poses for various crops and how eating organic produce reduces pesticide exposure and benefits the environment.

For more discussion, background, and strategy on fighting the climate crisis through the elimination of petro-chemical pesticides and fertilizers, attend Health, Biodiversity, and Climate: A Path for a Livable Future, the 2022 National Forum Climate Session on November 29, 2022, which will feature two speakers: Rachel Bezner Kerr, PhD, noted professor in Global Development at Cornell University (and Coordinating Lead Author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability); and Andrew Smith, PhD, chief operating officer at the Rodale Institute and coauthor of the report Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change.

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

Source: CBD Report, CBD Petition

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