‘Screamingly high levels’ of extremely hard-to-breakdown toxic chemicals are present in the majority of pesticides used in the US, a study warns.
So-called ‘forever chemicals’ were found in seven out of 10 insecticides included in the sample – but six had very large quantities of a particularly dangerous type.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been aware of the findings for over 18 months, but has not made any moves to step in.
Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of roughly 12,000 man-made chemicals which repel grease, water, stains and heat.
They are used to make thousands of waterproof, stain proof and heat proof products including food packaging, carpets, clothing and cooking pans.
But they are believed to also be used in pesticides as a dispersing agent, to ensure they spread at an even rate.
They are dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not break down in the environment and can take years to degrade in the body.
High levels of PFAS in pesticides can be dangerous if they are used on fields where food is grown.
Past research has linked them to severe health problems including cancer, birth defects, liver disease, kidney disease, autoimmune conditions and high cholesterol.
Texas researchers found unbelievably high levels of forever chemicals in widely used pesticides
Texas Tech University researchers examined 10 common insecticides being used on cotton fields, but can work for food and other crops.
They found PFAS in seven of the 10 insecticides, with levels of PFOS – which has been storgngly linked to cancer – as high as 19m parts per trillion (ppt) in one insecticide.
While the EPA has not set limits on the amount of PFAS in pesticides, in June it lowered its recommended limit of PFOS in drinking water from 70 ppt to 0.02 ppt, showing that no amount of exposure to the substance is safe.
What ARE ‘forever chemicals’?
‘Forever chemicals’ are a class of common industrial compounds that don’t break down when they’re released into the environment.
Humans are exposed to these chemicals after they’ve come in contact with food, soil or water reservoirs.
These chemicals — known more properly as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — are added to cookware, carpets, textiles and other items to make them more water- and stain-repellant.
PFAS contamination has been detected in water near manufacturing facilities, as well as at military bases and firefighting training facilities where flame-retardant foam is used.
The chemicals have been linked to an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, and damage to the immune system, as well as birth defects, smaller birth weights, and decreased vaccine response in children.
The researchers gave the names of the insecticides active ingredients as part of their findings, but Lasee said he was never asked for the brand names.
This means the EPA will not know which companies are the culprits of the toxic products.
The study’s lead author Steve Lasee, an environmental toxicologist at Texas Tech University, told the Guardian six pesticides had ‘screamingly high’ levels of PFOS.
The findings were published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters.
The non-profit organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) said the research was ‘disturbing’.
It said the findings ‘contradict previous statements by the US EPA that PFAS are not used in registered pesticide products’ and said that the threat to the food chain justifies the ban of all pesticides containing PFAS.
It added: ‘These PFAS are being taken up into the roots and shoots of plants, which means that they are entering our food supply through contaminated soils. Given that PFAS are “forever chemicals” this contamination will last long after PFAS is removed from pesticides.’
On September 1, the EPA proposed the removal of 12 PFAS from its approved list of inert ingredients for pesticides but said it was reviewing active ingredients.
An inert ingredient is any substance which is intentionally used in a pesticide product, other than an ‘active’ ingredient.
It does not mean the chemical is nontoxic.
PEER science policy director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, said: ‘If the intent was to spread PFAS contamination across the globe there would be few more effective methods than lacing pesticides with PFAS. These findings point to an appalling regulatory breakdown by EPA.’
Bennett told The Guardian there is not much people can do to protect themselves, other than eating organic food, which she noted is not always accessible or affordable.
Pesticides are chemicals used to kill things such as bacteria, insects, plant disease.
Insecticides are a type of pesticide used to specifically kill insects.
PFOS is no longer manufactured in the US due to health concerns, but they are still being made internationally and are imported into the US.