Sulfuryl fluoride

It’s use as a food fumigant on post-harvest food was first approved by the Office of Pesticides of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2004. With this approval, EPA approved the highest levels of fluoride residues on food in its history. According to EPA, Sulfuryl Fluoride breaks down rapidly in the human body to fluoride. And because of that, EPA approved two “tolerances” (permitted levels in or on food): one for Fluoride levels and the other for Sulfuryl Fluoride levels. See the tolerances approved for food by US EPA as of July 15, 2005.

The Fluoride Action Network (FAN) became involved in 2001 when Dow AgroSciences first petitioned the EPA for an Experimental Use Permit for Sulfuryl Fluoride on raisins and walnuts. FAN submitted comments and formal Objections and then in 2004 and 2005 EPA approved its use with high fluoride levels on all processed food, beans, grains, flour -and much more, including a fluoride residue of 900 ppm on dried eggs! FAN collaborated with two great groups, the Environmental Working Group and Beyond Pesticides, and a masterful pro-bono lawyer (Perry E. Wallace, Esq.), to reverse EPA’s approval, through a series of substantive submissions to the US EPA.

Incredibly, after many years of hard work, in January 2011, EPA concluded that it agreed with all but one of our objections and published their proposal to phase-out sulfuryl fluoride. According to protocol, EPA simultaneously solicited public comments on the phase-out.  That was when the Dow Chemical Company, the proprietary owner of Sulfuryl Fluoride, did everything a powerful corporation can do to dissuade EPA from enacting the phase-out. They successfully lobbied Congress to add a few short sentences to the Farm Bill of 2014 that nullified the phase-out. And we the people lost! But there’s more. Having salvaged their money-making post-harvest food fumigant from the phase-out, Dow Chemical sold Sulfuryl Fluoride in 2015 to Douglas Products. Congress left the public unprotected while allowing Dow to enrich itself on a chemical that is so extremely toxic to the brain that it should be banned.

6 things to know about Sulfuryl Fluoride

1. It is exceptionally toxic and workers who use it are at risk. One 1998 study compared the effects on fumigation workers who used either methyl bromide or Sulfuryl Fluoride. The study found that sulfuryl fluoride workers suffered “subclinical effects on the central nervous system” as well as observable “cognitive deficits.”

2. In all animals (rats, mice, rabbits, dogs) exposed to Sulfuryl Fluoride in Dow’s experiments, it was found to create severe and rare effects in the brain. Notably, it harmed the brain white matter and created vacuolation (holes) in several parts of the brain (cerebrum, white matter, thalmus/hypothalmus, etc.). Incredibly, effects on the bone were not studied.

3. We know that when Sulfuryl Fluoride is used, two different residues are left “in” or “on” the food. These residues are “Fluoride” and “Sulfuryl Fluoride.” EPA has given legal tolerances for each. However, we know very little about the chemical “Sulfuryl Fluoride” itself, aside from the fact that it is horribly toxic and attacks the brain.

4. FAN was told that Dow AgroSciences campaigned hard to get the US EPA to accept Sulfuryl Fluoride as the replacement fumigant for Methyl Bromide. Because Methyl Bromide is an ozone destroyer, western countries were obligated under the UN Montreal Agreement to end all uses. Only the US hasn’t complied with this mandate. FAN agrees that all uses of Methyl Bromide in the US must end immediately, but substituting it with Sulfuryl Fluoride is unwise for many reasons including the fact that it is a potent greenhouse gas. Of note: Dow is the producer of both fumigants!

5. In response to FAN’s Objections,  US EPA proposed to phase-out the use of Sulfuryl Fluoride as a food fumigant in 2011 on the basis that children were overexposed to fluoride. The Food Quality and Protection Act (FQPA) states that “aggregate exposure levels of consumers (and major identifiable subgroups of consumers)” must be taken into account. We know that children are overexposed to fluoride because of the incredibly high levels of dental fluorosis –CDC reported that 41% of children aged 12-15 were diagnosed with it. Because of this and the several other objections we made, US EPA could not justify new sources of exposure. However, Dow AgroSciences and its chorus in industry and Congress, are opposed to any justification for a phase-out.

6. You can avoid Sulfuryl Fluoride residues by buying organic or growing your own food.

See also:

ProFume, used as a post-harvest fumigant

Vikane, structural fumigant

Adverse Effects, Part 1 and Adverse Effects, Part 2

Abstracts (to be updated)