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Daily News Blog

04
May

Report Adds to Evidence of Widespread PFAS Contamination; Calls for Removal of Products

(Beyond Pesticides, May 4, 2023) One of the most widely used insecticides in California, Intrepid 2F, contains harmful levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or “forever chemicals,” according to a report by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In fact, 40 percent of pesticide products in the report tested positive for high levels of PFAS. PFAS are common in non-stick cookware, cleaning/personal care products, food packaging, and other consumer products. However, these compounds are also in pesticide productsDespite evidence on the dangers of PFAS stretching as far back as the 1950s, federal agencies sat by the sidelines as the plastics industry continued adding the material to new products. From widespread presence in farm fields and sewage sludge to contaminated water bodies throughout the U.S., PFAS has made its way into the environment and our bodies. PFAS are even present in remote environments like the Arctic, Antarctica, and Eastern European Tibetan Plateau. A study published in 2020 identified PFAS as common products to which Americans are exposed daily.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that 98% of Americans have some level of PFAS in their bloodstream, with studies reporting PFAS compounds are detectable in infants, children, and pregnant women. With health risks including developmental, metabolic, cardiovascular, and reproductive harm, cancer, damage to the liver, kidneys, and respiratory system, as well as the potential to increase the chance of disease infection and severity, PFAS presents a chronic danger to people that demands urgent regulatory action. CBD and PEER submitted the test results to the EPA and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR), advising the agencies to remove these pesticide products from the market until contaminants from supply lines can be removed.

CBD authorized independent, certified lab testing on seven agricultural pesticides with common uses in California to determine the part per trillion (ppt) of PFAS in pesticide products. The insecticide product Malathion 5EC (active ingredient: malathion) contains 510s ppt perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and 680 ppt perfluoroheptanesulfonic acid (PFHpS), with a PFOA level over 100,000 times higher than the level EPA considers safe in drinking water (0.004 ppt). The insecticide Oberon 2SC (active ingredient: spiromesifin) contains 1,500 ppt perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA), and Intrepid 2F (active ingredient: methoxyfenozide) contains 50 ppt of perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS).

PFAS are a group of nearly 10,000 human-made chemicals in various consumer products that people use daily. Although some PFAS compound manufacturing has ceased, these chemicals last forever in the environment as their chemical structure makes them resistant to breakdown. Thus, PFAS contamination is significantly underrepresented and much more perverse that previously thought, polluting storage and transportation containers, food and water resources, and other chemical products. Not only is the public exposed to such chemicals, those who work in factories that create products that include PFAS, or workers who use them regularly, have higher cumulative exposures. Across multiple states, firefighters have begun to bring lawsuits against manufacturers of the foams, charging that the companies knowingly made and sold products with these forever chemicals that put the workers’ health at risk. Others at greater-than-average exposure risk include pregnant or lactating people and young children. Although some PFAS compound manufacturing has ceased, these chemicals last forever in the environment as their chemical structure makes them resistant to breakdown. Thus, PFAS contamination is significantly underrepresented and much more perverse than previously thought, polluting storage and transportation containers, food and water resources, and other chemical products. For instance, many reports address the high levels of PFAS contamination in the mosquito insecticide Anvil 10+10.

Although EPA does not regulate PFAS in pesticide formulas, the agency lists these substances in the inert ingredient database, and thus product labels do not require disclosure of contaminants fundamental to pesticide products as a result of the manufacturing or packaging process. Concerning the ecosystem, the ongoing detection of PFAS in various environments and soils also threatens the ability of growers, including organic growers, to produce food that does not harbor these compounds. PFAS do not break down in the environment and are detectable in more than 330 animal species globally, including species at extinction risk. PFAS chemical residues persist in food and drinking water, with over six million U.S. residents regularly encountering drinking water with PFAS levels above the EPA health advisory of 70 ng/L. Therefore, PFAS are detectable in almost all of the U.S. population—disproportionately afflicting people of color communities—and have implications for human health. 

Nathan Donley, Ph.D., environmental health science director at CBD, states, “I can’t imagine anything that could make these products any more dangerous than they already are, but apparently, my imagination isn’t big enough. […] The EPA has to take control of this situation and remove pesticide products that are contaminated with these extremely dangerous, persistent chemicals.”

Despite EPA considering the primary source of PFAS contamination in pesticides from leach from fluorinated containers, PFBS and PFHpS, like in Intrepid 2F and Malathion 5EC, respectively, are not known to leach. Thus, this report indicates that PFAS contamination of agricultural pesticide products comes from additional unknown sources. For instance, PFAS in rainwater, surface water, and soil exceeds the planetary boundary for chemical pollution, contaminating above EPA’s proposed guideline levels, and exceeding safe limits for humanity. Despite reductions in the global emissions for PFAS compounds, the environmental persistence and hydrological cycling of these toxic chemicals make them an ever-present source of contamination, especially as PFAS compounds do not break down in the environment. Studies from the past year highlight:

  1. “Levels of PFOA and PFOS in rainwater often greatly exceed US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lifetime Drinking Water Health Advisory levels, and the sum of the aforementioned four PFAAs (Σ4 PFAS) in rainwater is often above Danish drinking water limit values also based on Σ4 PFAS;
  2. Levels of PFOS in rainwater are often above Environmental Quality Standard for Inland European Union Surface Water; and
  3. Atmospheric deposition also leads to global soils being ubiquitously contaminated, and to be often above proposed Dutch guideline values.”

PEER’s science policy director Kyla Bennett, Ph.D., cautions, “While communities around the country are struggling to remove PFAS from their drinking-water supplies, we are spraying millions of acres of our land with the same toxic chemicals. […] It’s nonsensical; we can’t protect our drinking water unless and until we get PFAS out of all pesticides.”

Ubiquitous environmental contaminants, like PFAS, have severe consequences, especially on the health of vulnerable individuals. Various pesticide products act similarly to PFAS. Individuals can encounter these substances simultaneously, resulting in more severe health outcomes. Therefore, advocates urge that policies enforce stricter pesticide regulations and increase research on the long-term impacts of pesticide exposure. Many states are issuing regulatory limits on various PFAS in drinking water, groundwater, and soil. However, EPA must require complete product testing and disclosure of ingredients for proper PFAS regulation. Furthermore, the agency must identify the unreasonable of exposure to toxic pesticides by citing the productivity and profitability of organic and ecological pest management practices. Solutions like buyinggrowing, and supporting organic can help eliminate the extensive use of pesticides in the environment. Organic land management and regenerative organic agriculture eliminate the need for toxic agricultural pesticides. Given the wide availability of nonpesticidal alternative strategies, families and industry workers can apply these methods to promote a safe and healthy environment, especially among chemically vulnerable individuals. For more information on why organic is the healthy choice, see the Beyond Pesticides webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture. Additionally, learn more about how the lack of adequate pesticide regulations can adversely affect human and environmental health by visiting the Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticides and You article “Regulatory Failures Mount, Threatening Health and Safety.”

Spring is here, so grow your spring garden the organic way by Springing Into Action, pledging to eliminate toxic pesticide use.

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

Source: Analytical Report, Center for Biological Diversity  

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