Legislation that would reauthorize farm programs and nutrition assistance for five years includes language that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from considering exposure from all sources of fluoride in any aggregate risk assessment for the fumigant pesticide sulfuryl fluoride.
The Agricultural Act of 2014 (H.R. 2642), as recommended by a House-Senate conference report, includes a provision that would require the administrator of the EPA to exclude nonpesticidal sources of fluoride from any aggregate exposure assessment for sulfuryl fluoride conducted pursuant to Section 408 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Sulfuryl fluoride is a fumigant used on various commodities, including stored grains, dried fruits, nuts, coffee and cocoa beans.
The House approved the farm bill Jan. 29 on a vote of 251-166. The Senate is scheduled to hold a final vote on the farm bill Feb. 4 after senators voted to end debate on the measure Feb. 3 (see related story in this issue).
Michael Connett, special projects director at the Fluoride Action Network, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 3 that the farm bill language would prevent the EPA from moving ahead with a proposal to withdraw maximum pesticide residue limits, also known as tolerances, for sulfuryl fluoride on food. Connett said the farm bill provision “completely obliterates” nine years of work by organizations that objected to the use of sulfuryl fluoride on food products.
EPA Proposed Phaseout in 2011.
The EPA proposed in 2011 to phase out the tolerances for sulfuryl fluoride after a risk assessment determined that people in some areas are at risk of overexposure to fluoride. The agency determined that the tolerances for sulfuryl fluoride no longer met federal safety standards under the FFDCA after a review of updated exposure data revealed that aggregate exposure to high levels of fluoride through toothpaste, drinking water, mouth rinses and pesticide residues could lead to severe dental fluorosis, especially in children under the age of 7 who live in areas with drinking water that contains naturally high fluoride levels 08 DER A-21, 1/12/11.
Connett said several groups, including the Fluoride Action Network and Beyond Pesticides, emphasized to the EPA that if they considered all sources of fluoride exposure, there is “no safe room” in the risk cup for additional dietary exposures from residues of sulfuryl fluoride on food.
Connett said that if the EPA cannot consider all sources of fluoride exposure in its risk assessment of the sulfuryl fluoride tolerances, “there is nothing that can be done” unless Congress reverses course and changes the law again.
The EPA told Bloomberg BNA in a Feb. 3 e-mail that the agency is reviewing public comments received on the proposed revocation of sulfuryl fluoride tolerances.
“We currently have no schedule for announcing a final decision,” the agency said.
Jay Feldman, executive director at Beyond Pesticides, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 3 that the EPA “clearly said” in 2011 that health risks for children were elevated due to dietary fluoride exposures. He said in addition to dental fluorosis, which was identified by the EPA in its risk assessment, science has linked fluoride exposure to developmental issues, including a lowered intelligence quotient (IQ) in children.
Feldman said that the approach to scientific assessment that would be required under the farm bill was “deemed unacceptable” by Congress in 1996. The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (Pub. L. No. 104-170) requires the EPA to consider data on the cumulative effects on infants and children of pesticide chemicals and other substances with common mechanisms of toxicity when making a determination on a pesticide tolerance.
Industry groups, including Dow AgroSciences, which manufactures the sulfuryl fluoride fumigant brand ProFume, argue that the EPA’s proposed phaseout of sulfuryl fluoride on food would have a minimal impact on exposure because pesticide-related fluoride exposure is negligible compared with naturally occurring levels in drinking water and other sources. The EPA estimates that sulfuryl fluoride accounts for less than 4 percent of human exposure to fluoride.
Dow AgroSciences did not respond to a Feb. 3 request for comment on the farm bill provision.
Methyl Bromide Alternative.
Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 3 that his organization supports the inclusion of the sulfuryl fluoride provision in the farm bill.
Schlegel said the EPA initially encouraged farmers to adopt sulfuryl fluoride as an alternative to the ozone-depleting substance methyl bromide for post-harvest uses. The U.S. phased out use of methyl bromide in 2005, except for certain critical uses, under the Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
Other groups that opposed the EPA’s phaseout of sulfuryl fluoride without an affordable alternative include the American Soybean Association and the USA Rice Federation.
Feldman of Beyond Pesticides disagreed with the industry groups, citing several alternative grain storage methods used in organic agriculture. He said organic growers use humidity control, aeration and heat treatment to control pests without using toxic chemicals.
“This is yet another example of affected industries that do not want to modernize,” Feldman said.
Connett of the Fluoride Action Network said many other countries, including England and countries in Western Europe, do not allow sulfuryl fluoride residues in food. He said in those countries, there are “very strict” requirements for sulfuryl fluoride use by food processors, including the removal of all food from a facility before fumigation and required measures to prevent residues from getting into the food after fumigation.