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EPA to Bar Fluoride-Based Pesticide

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, January 10, 2011

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today proposed to grant three environmental groups’ petition to end the use of sulfuryl fluoride, an insecticide and food fumigant manufactured by Dow AgroSciences.

The Dow product, approved by EPA as an alternative to methyl bromide, is used on hundreds of food commodities.

Citing concerns about children’s health and noting their current overexposure to fluoride through tap water, EPA’s decision is the second major federal action in three days to address the safety of fluoride for children. On January 7, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed to reduce its recommended maximum level of fluoride in tap water from 1.2 to 0.7 parts per million (ppm), a 42 percent decrease.

In 2004, Fluoride Action Network, Environmental Working Group, and Beyond Pesticides challenged EPA’s risk assessment of the pesticide sulfuryl fluoride under the Food Quality and Protection Act of 1996, which regulates pesticide safety. The groups objected that EPA’s methodology relied on an outdated health risk assessment and significantly underestimated children’s exposures to fluoride from all sources.

With today’s announcement, the EPA Office of Pesticide Program has concluded that the current legal limit of the pesticide residue on food does not adequately protect children from aggregate fluoride exposures, such as drinking water and toothpaste.

EPA’s reversal upholds the environmental groups’ position that children’s aggregate fluoride exposures are unsafe and that any additional exposure through pesticide residues is unlawful. According to EPA officials, the decision appears to be the first time the agency has granted substantive formal objections to a pesticide tolerance rule based on public health advocates' evidence that a particular chemical's use violates the safety standard for aggregate exposures under federal law.

If EPA makes the proposal final, many uses of the pesticide sulfuryl fluoride would stop within 90 days. A three-year phase-out period would be extended for other uses, including dried nuts and fruits and usage by direct handling facilities like flour mills.

The actions by EPA and HHS represent a growing consensus that the American public is being exposed to excessive fluoride. They amount to admissions that for decades, public health agencies have erroneously reassured the public that fluoride is safe. As a result, generations of children have been exposed to amounts of fluoride that could damage teeth and bones and that emerging science indicates could harm thyroid function and increase risks for bone cancer.

“For decades, people who raised concerns about fluoride being added to tap water or food were dismissed as crazy," said Ken Cook, President of Environmental Working Group. "All of a sudden we have two federal regulatory actions, announced just days apart, that tell us what was really crazy all those years: a government bureaucracy that ignored strong scientific evidence and clear warning signs of the threats fluoride has posed to public health all along. We commend the Obama administration for these actions, which begin, at long last, to put the use and regulation of fluoride on a sound scientific footing.”

“EPA’s decision to stop sulfuryl fluoride use and grant the petition rights a wrong that has been in place for many years and should advance more serious attention to the threat that pesticides pose to people’s health through multiple routes of exposure, including our food and water,” said Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides.

"EPA has taken a step in the right direction, but as their own data show, many children will still receive too much fluoride even without sulfuryl fluoride and so further reductions in fluoride exposure are necessary in order to truly protect children's health," said Tara Blank, Ph.D., Science and Health Liaison Officer for Fluoride Action Network

"This step by EPA is not only significant in regard to the particular pesticide tolerances involved. As a regulatory confirmation of our positions regarding the potential health effects of fluoride, it also has considerable precedential value for future initiatives to address this major area of concern," said Perry Wallace, professor of law at American University and who worked with the groups on petitioning EPA.

Sulfuryl fluoride was first registered in 1959 as a fumigant to control termites in wood structures. In 2004 and 2005, EPA approved the registration of sulfuryl fluoride as a pesticide to be used to kill insects in harvested and processed foods such as cereal grains, dried fruits, tree nuts, cocoa beans, coffee beans, and insect infestations in food handling and processing facilities.

The pesticide breaks down into fluoride, whose residues can contaminate food. Over-exposure to fluoride can be toxic, causing dental fluorosis (mottling and loss of tooth enamel) and skeletal fluorosis (joint pain, stiffness and bone fractures).

Some studies point to a possible link between fluoride exposure and osteosarcoma, commonly known as bone cancer, neurotoxicity and disruption of thyroid function. Read more about fluoride and FAN, EWG, and Beyond Pesticides work on the issue here: http://www.ewg.org/featured/222

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org

Beyond Pesticides, a national grassroots nonprofit, protects health and the environment with science, policy and action. http://www.beyondpesticides.org

Fluoride Action Network is a nonprofit advocacy group working to educate the public on fluoride. http://www.fluoridealert.org

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