EPA Moves To Ban Pesticide That Leaves Fluoride Behind

January 11, 2011

April Fulton

After years of pressure from environmental groups, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to ban sulfuryl fluoride by 2014.

Sulfuryl fluoride is used to fumigate places where food is stored, and the stuff gets sprayed on grains, dried fruit, coffee, cocoa beans and nuts.

The problem with sulfuryl fluoride is that it leaves fluoride behind as it degrades. A little fluoride is good for teeth, but too much causes staining and pitting.

Although EPA says the pesticide is responsible for less than 3 percent of fluoride exposure, the government's been on a bit of a tear lately to reduce kids' exposure. It recently proposed reducing fluoride in drinking water.

So if the chemical is banned, what will food companies do instead?

Environmental groups see the EPA's proposed ban as an opportunity. "We need to shift our emphasis in food production away from chemicals that we know to be harmful... This is what this decision does," said Jay Feldman, executive director of the group Beyond Pesticides, on a conference call with reporters today.

Food facilities in Canada and Europe rely on temperature controls and tighter, cleaner storage containers, rather than the pesticide, Chris Neurath of the Fluoride Action Network said.

But challenges remain. Dow Chemicals, which makes, sulfuryl fluoride has promoted it as a "viable alternative" to the ozone-depleting pesticide methyl bromide when there weren't many other chemical options.

Methyl bromide was phased out of use in 2004 under an international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol.

Dow didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.