WASHINGTON (CN) - The Environmental Protection Agency plans to phase out fumigation of dehydrated fruits, nuts and grains with pesticides containing sulfuryl fluoride, following objections made by three environmental groups.
The agency approved tolerances for the fumigant on food stuffs in 2004, and the Fluoride Action Network, Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, and the Environmental Working Group claimed those tolerances were in violation of the aggregate limits for exposure to fluoride set by the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act.
In 2006, The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences published a report on fluoride exposure determining that the maximum contaminant level of the element allowed in drinking water was not "protective of health." Because the agency had based its tolerances on those maximum contaminant levels, it agreed to review the tolerances it had established for pesticides containing fluoride.
When the NRC report was published, the agency refused to issue a stay on the approved tolerances, arguing that it needed time to review the report and that even if the current tolerances were too high, the health risks of short term exposure were less than the cost of imposing an immediate stay.
While announcing its proposed phase out of fluoride containing pesticides, the agency declined to stay the existing tolerances arguing again that the health risks of short term exposure, pending elimination, are negligible against the cost of forcing the use of alternative pesticides.
Ironically, sulfuryl fluoride replaced another substance, methyl bromide which was itself phased out by agency as an ozone depleting substance, after the U.S. signed the Montreal Protocol.
In response to the agency's proposal, Dow AgroSciences, the largest producer of sulfuryl fluoride, said in a press release that the fumigant is the only "practical alternative" to methyl bromide.
Dow also said that the "EPA has acknowledged that its proposal is in response to a petition and threat of legal action by activists" and that because the agency admits that "the use of sulfuryl fluoride to protect the food supply results in only "a tiny fraction" of overall fluoride exposure", the agency's action "offers no meaningful public health or environmental benefits and would actually distract from U.S. public health goals.
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