Public Health Advocates Pressure on EPA Flouride Reduction

01 Agriculture, 04 Education, 07 Health, 12 Water, Corporations

EPA to Bar Fluoride-Based Pesticide

Decision aims to protect children’s health

  • CONTACT: EWG Public Affairs, 202-667-6982; Beyond Pesticides: Jay Feldman, 202-543-5450; Fluoride Action Network: Ellen Connett, 315-379-9200

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 The groups objected that EPA’s methodology relied on an outdated health risk assessment and significantly underestimated children’s exposures to fluoride from all sources.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:

# # #
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

Beyond Pesticides, a national grassroots nonprofit, protects health and the environment with science, policy and action.

Fluoride Action Network is a nonprofit advocacy group working to educate the public on fluoride.

Info from the Flouride Action Network:

When EPA approved the use of sulfuryl fluoride for the first time for use on food in 2004 it approved the highest levels of fluoride residues in and on food it in its history (previous residues had been approved for the use of cryolite). Then in 2005, it approved extremely high levels of fluoride in all processed food, with an incredible 900 part-per-million residue of fluoride in and on dried eggs (ref 2, 3)! In response to our Objection to this ridiculous unsafe level, EPA did quickly remove this tolerance, and it was the only quick response they gave us.

According to EPA, when sulfuryl fluoride is applied to food or enters the body it breaks down to the fluoride anion. It was the fluoride ion that dominated the EPA’s risk assessment for this fumigant and also attracted the interest of FAN.

The procedure that EPA plans to end the use of sulfuryl fluoride on food is to announce it in the Federal Register and then allow 90 days for public comment.  We expect Dow AgroSciences, the proprietary producer of Profume – the name of its food fumigant – to mount some kind of objection, but in doing so they will have to demonstrate that children are not being overexposed to fluoride. This was the reason that EPA gave for granting our objections. EPA plans to phase out the majority of uses on food 90 days after it issues a Final Order and then three years to remove its use on all food commodities.

FAN was extremely fortunate to have gained the support of the Environmental Working Group and Beyond Pesticides, two national groups that supported us at every turn in our Objections to EPA, and we are very thankful to him. We were also incredibly lucky to get the legal services of Perry Wallace, a professor of law at American University, who worked hard and did a great job

for us. This was the result of a request from the Environmental Working Group to the law firm of Zelle, Hofmann, Voelbel, Mason & Gette for pro-bono services to represent us in dealing with EPA on this issue.

It was the FAN team (Michael Connett, Chris Neurath, Paul & Ellen Connett) who spent hundreds of hours over 9 years on this issue.

The issue first arose in 2001 when Dow AgroSciences requested an Experimental Use Permit for sulfuryl fluoride as as first-time food fumigant on raisins and walnuts.  FAN submitted comments to EPA in September 2001 on this.  In 2002, EPA approved Dow’s Experimental Use permit and that is when FAN submitted its first formal Objections and a Request for a Hearing.  EPA responded to our Objections two years later when it granted Dow’s request to use sulfuryl fluoride on several food commodities. At this time it said FAN’s first Objections were moot because DOW never used the Experimental Use Permit! FAN, with Beyond Pesticides joining us, submitted substantive Objections a Request for a Hearing on the new tolerances. Then in 2005, EPA approved a massive number of tolerances on ALL processed food. We again submitted formal Objections and a Request for Hearing, with the Environmental Working Group joining us and Beyond Pesticides.

When the National Research Council of the National Academies published their report on fluoride in March 2006 they said that the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 4 ppm of fluoride in drinking water was not protective of health. As EPA had based its risk assessments for sulfuryl fluoride solely on the safety of the MCL, we petitioned EPA in June 2006 to stay all the tolerances (ref 4). EPA then solicited public comments in the Federal Register on our request for a Stay, which produced an excellent response from the New York State Attorney General’s Office who agreed with us (ref 5).

The most egregious actions of EPA during this entire time were the three health risk assessments it produced.  These assessments were the basis that EPA used for the “safe” use of sulfuryl fluoride as a food fumigant and thus its approval. In brief, EPA’s final risk assessment allowed for an infant’s exposure to fluoride to be ten times higher than that of an adult! This is not only contrary to common sense, it is contrary to EPA’s mandate in the Food Quality and Protection Act that was passed to provide special protections for babies and infants.  A summary of the gross manipulations and inadequacies of the EPA’s three risk assessments are summarized in the book The Case Against Fluoride co-authored by FAN director Paul Connett (see chapter 20, pp 209-210).

EPA requested us to consolidate our numerous objections on two occasions, and it is our November 2006 submission that gives the most succinct review (ref 6).

In the intervening years, we, and our lawyer, had to respond to several requests from EPA and we went through a mediation effort, set up and paid for by EPA. Although we entered the mediation process in good faith, it was a complete failure. But any ill-feelings this spinning of wheels generated have been swept away by the incredible events of yesterday. Now we can concentrate on getting the EPA water division to do an honest job on determining a new MCLG and in so doing end fluoridation once and for all.

NOTE: Cryolite is another pesticide of concern that EPA allows a residue of  7 ppm fluoride in and on several foods, including citrus fruits, berries, vegetables, and U.S. wine (see list in ref 7).  The ways one can avoid this added fluoride exposure is to buy organic or grow your own.


1. EPA’s announcement of January 10, 2011:

2. FAN issued a press release on Sept 21, 2005, that stated:

The groups noted that 900 ppm set for dried eggs is extremely close to the amount used in toothpaste (1,000 ppm), a level that is considered toxic if consumed in greater than pea sized portions. “How can the EPA consider 900 ppm in eggs safe, while the Food and Drug Administration directs parents to call poison control centers if their children consume more than a pea sized portion of toothpaste with fluoride at 1,000 ppm?” asked Paul Connett, PhD, Executive Director of FAN. “Unlike toothpaste, eggs are meant to be eaten, not spit out.”

3. List of all foods with fluoride pesticide residue tolerances at

4. Petition to Stay Tolerances, June 2006 –

5. Response from the NY State Attorney General’s Office on stay –

6. November 2006 Consolidated Objections on sulfuryl fluoride submitted to EPA –

7. Cryolite is used on: Apricot, Blackberry, Blueberry, Boysenberry, Brocoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Cranberry, Cucumber, Dewberry, Eggplant, Citrus fruits, Grape, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Loganberry, Melon, Nectarine, Peach, Pepper, Plum (fresh prune), Pumpkin, Raspberry, Squash (winter & summer), Strawberry, Tomato, Youngberry. See also

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