Industry Backed Legislation Directs EPA to Allow Hazardous Pesticide in Food

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 29, 2013.  Dow AgroSciences, one of the nation’s largest pesticide makers, along with various food companies, have persuaded several members of Congress to endorse a bill that directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reverse a proposed phase out of sulfuryl fluoride, a highly toxic food fumigant and potent greenhouse gas. If passed, the bill would make the U.S. one of only two western nations to allow sulfuryl fluoride on food, increase the number of American children ingesting unsafe levels of fluoride, and create a food poisoning risk for consumers who purchase food that contains permissible levels of the fumigant.

The Pest Free Food Supply Act, H.R. 1496, sponsored by Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) and 14 others, seeks to prevent thephase out of sulfuryl fluoride from taking effect. The phase out, which EPA proposed in January 2011, was prompted by a joint petition from the Fluoride Action Network (FAN), Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Beyond Pesticides.

In seeking to prevent the phase out from taking effect, the bill’s sponsors have adopted Dow’s widely discredited talking points on the safety and necessity of sulfuryl fluoride fumigation. The public should know:

  • Of the few western nations that allow food facilities to be fumigated with sulfuryl fluoride only the U.S. and Australia allow fumigation to occur while food is still on the premises.
    • EPA based the proposed phase out on its finding that many children are currently being overexposed to fluoride, and that there is no safe room for additional fluoride exposures. Under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), the EPA cannot approve a pesticide if people are currently receiving too much of the pesticide chemical (in this case, fluoride) from other sources.
  • Despite claims that sulfuryl fluoride produces a “tiny” increase in fluoride exposure, the maximum permissible levels in some fumigated foods are high enough to produce acute toxic reactions, such as nausea, vomiting, and headache. A child eating a single portion of pancakes made with flour fumigated at the maximum permissible level (125 ppm F) would ingest enough fluoride to be at risk for flu-like symptoms. The risk is worse for powdered eggs, which are permitted to contain toothpaste-strength levels (900 ppm F). The FDA mandates that fluoride toothpastes warn users to immediately contact a poison control center if they accidentally swallow the paste. Unlike toothpaste, dried eggs are meant to be swallowed.
  • Fluoride is neurotoxic. Over 30 published studies have reported an association between fluoride and reduced IQ in children, Dow’s own animal studies show that the brain is the main target for sulfuryl fluoride’s effects, and fumigation workers who use sulfuryl fluoride have been found to suffer impaired cognitive function.
  • Sulfuryl fluoride is a potent greenhouse gas. Because of this, the Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Health, Defenders of Wildlife, and Center for Biological Diversity oppose Dow’s efforts to expand sulfuryl fluoride production.

Jay Feldman, director of Beyond Pesticides, says, “Before the agricultural processing industry uses its muscles to retain the use of sulfuryl fluoride, it should carefully research what other industrialized societies are using to protect food in processing and storage facilities. Some like Canada only allow the treatment of empty facilities before the introduction of food products; others use non-toxic methods like heat, refrigeration and carbon dioxide. In the U.S., some of these treatments would require the upgrading of old leaky storage facilities. This would be a far more sensible approach not only to protect our food supply but also to protect our children from unnecessary exposure to yet another toxic substance in their early lives.”

According to Sonya Lunder, Senior Analyst with EWG, “There is a growing consensus that American children are exposed to too much fluoride, in part because of the use of sulfuryl fluoride. To prevent the adverse health effects of overexposure to fluoride, EPA should finalize its proposal to phase out this pesticide and tackle the issue of fluoride in drinking water.”

Paul Connett, PhD, director of FAN, notes that “fluoride is too neurotoxic to be allowed on children’s food and EPA’s pesticide division deserves credit for taking the correct course of action in protecting the health of infants and children, rather than the profits of Dow AgroSciences.”

Sulfuryl fluoride was initially registered in 1959 to kill termites and other wood-boring pests. It gained further attention as a potential alternative to methyl bromide as broad spectrum insect fumigant in post-harvest commodity storage and food processing facilities. Alternatives for methyl bromide were needed because under the Montreal Protocol methyl bromide use was to be gradually reduced because it was a greenhouse gas. Methyl bromide was to be phased out in 2005. However, due to the “critical use exemption” (CUE) stipulation of the laws, which allows the chemical to continue to be used when there are no feasible alternatives, application rates have remained persistently high. Some environmental groups have opposed sulfurly fluoride’s phase out. The Natural Resources Defense Council submitted a letter to EPA in 2011 opposing the disallowance of any sulfuryl fluoride uses that it believes will lead to prolonged or increased methyl bromide use. Beyond Pesticides and others maintain, however, that without compliance with the law and phase-out of sulfuryl fluoride, there  will be no incentive for grain storage facilities to upgrade to adopt modern practices that do not rely on this hazardous chemical, practices that are regularly used in the organic industry. See Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News on this issue.

Beyond Pesticides has never considered sulfuryl fluoride necessary for the safe storage and handling of our food supply and does not support an extension of the currently mandated phase out. There are many viable alternatives to sulfuryl fluoride and methyl bromide fumigation, including temperature manipulation (heating and cooling), atmospheric controls (low oxygen and fumigation with carbon dioxide), biological controls (pheromones, viruses and nematodes), and less toxic chemical controls (diatomaceous earth). Neither fumigant is permitted in organic food production and handling.

FAN, Beyond Pesticides and EWG will vigorously oppose efforts to overturn EPA’s proposed phase-out of sulfuryl fluoride on food, and will fight to uphold the FQPA.

Sources: Press release, http://www.beyondpesticides.org

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