Study finds ‘forever toxic chemicals’ in commonly used insecticides in the US Environment

Toxic PFAS chemicals are detected in seven out of 10 pesticides tested in the US, according to the new Research. Six of them contained what the study’s lead author described as “blatantly high” levels of PFOS, one of the most dangerous PFOS compounds.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has known about the results for more than 18 months but appears to have not yet investigated the products or taken any action against the manufacturer.

PFAS, also known as forever chemicals, can be absorbed by crops. Public health advocates say such high levels of pesticides create health risks if they spread to fields where food is grown.

“We know that PFOS is a carcinogen, we know it is a deadly chemical and there is no safe level in drinking water,” said Kayla Bennett, a former EPA official and director of science policy at Nonprofit Public Officials for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). ), which issued a press release about the study. “Our soil and water are polluted now.”

In a statement, the EPA told the Guardian it is reviewing the active ingredients used in pesticides – those that kill pests – to determine if any are PFAS. However, PFOS can be an inert component.

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of about 12,000 chemicals commonly used to make thousands of products resistant to water, stains, and heat. It does not decompose and accumulates naturally in humans and the environment. There is a growing body of evidence linking them to serious health problems such as cancer, birth defects, liver disease, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, high cholesterol and low immunity.

Researchers from Texas Tech University examined 10 insecticides that were used on cotton, but which can also be used on food and other crops. Environmental toxicologist and lead author Steve Lazy, who was at Texas Tech University at the time of the study, said the peer-reviewed study, published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters, found PFAS in seven of these “widely used” insecticides. “. He is now an independent consultant with Lasee Research and Consulting and a research fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tests revealed PFOS as high as 19 million parts per trillion (parts per trillion) in a single insecticide. The EPA has not set limits for PFAS in pesticides, but in June it lowered its advisory health limit in drinking water to 0.02 parts per thousand, a very low level indicating no amount of exposure to the compound is safe.

Lacey said he presented his findings in March 2021 to staff at the EPA’s Office of Research and Development and at a conference attended by environmental science professionals and EPA staff. He said he received an email from leadership in an EPA department asking him to present his study to more EPA employees, but he hadn’t heard anything beyond that.

Lacey said he has named the insecticide’s active ingredients, but has not received requests for brand names, which means the EPA can’t tell which companies sold contaminated products.

The EPA did not respond to direct questions about the study’s findings or about Lacey’s presentation to the agency.

Lacey said the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) called him after his presentation to say he was interested in learning more about the research. An EPA spokesperson told the Guardian that the agency had been testing some pesticides for PFAS and had “discontinued the use” of those containing the chemicals. The spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the information from the Texas Tech study and determining the next step.

It’s not clear what purpose PFAS might serve in pesticides, but Lacey said it could be used as a dispersing agent, to help pesticides spread evenly.

The study was published amid increasing scrutiny of PFAS in pesticides due to the potential for widespread contamination of food and water. multiple studies You have established That crops absorb PFAS and can be ingested by humans. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began monitoring PFAS in food in 2019 and detected it in fruits and vegetables, but it has not set any limits.

The Environmental Protection Agency found earlier this year that PFAS is added to plastic barrels and containers used to store pesticides seeps into products. An EPA spokesperson said the agency has alerted companies that they may be violating the law.

However, Lacey said the type of PFAS compounds he found differed from those sprayed from plastic containers, and the level of PFAS in the Texas Tech study was several times higher by volume, indicating the chemicals are from a different source.

In September, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed Some ban PFAS that can be used as inactive ingredients have been approved for use in pesticide products, but said the active ingredients are under review. “The Environmental Protection Agency will share the results of this investigation as soon as possible,” an agency spokesperson said.

The agency also updated a file web page With information on PFOS in pesticides in September that claims not to use PFOS in products. “The EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs has previously determined that there are no active pesticides or inactive ingredients with structures similar to PFAS as prominent as PFOS as PFOS.”

This could conflict with Lacey’s research. The reason for the presence of PFOS in pesticides is unclear. It may be the result of chemical companies adding the compound illegally, Bennett said. A different compound of PFOS can also be added to fertilizers, and then decomposed into PFOS after the pesticide is manufactured. The Environmental Protection Agency did not respond to specific questions about the statement on its website.

Bennett said there’s little consumers can do to protect themselves right away other than eating organic, but she noted that many people don’t have access to, or can’t afford, organic products.

This leaves it up to the EPA to take faster and more aggressive action to get PFAS out of pesticides, Bennett added.

“We have to get the EPA to stop allowing PFAS to be used in pesticides,” she said. “We have a toxic chemical that doesn’t need to be there, and pesticides are bad enough on their own without adding another carcinogen.”

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