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Forever chemicals: New report claims PFAS are sprayed onto fields and food in pesticides

Forever chemicals are being sprayed onto crops in pesticides, a new investigation finds.
Forever chemicals are being sprayed onto crops in pesticides, a new investigation finds. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Euronews Green
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A new report exposes the ‘urgent’ threat of forever chemicals in pesticides, as it calls for tighter EU regulation.

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Dozens of substances used in pesticides in Europe are ‘forever chemicals’, a new investigation reveals.

The stable door is slowly closing on PFAS - man-made per- or poly-fluorinated alkyl substances which persist in the environment for an incredibly long time.

The EU is set to restrict their use and phase them out with a review of its REACH regulation that governs chemicals. It is part of a promised ‘great detox’ on dangerous substances.

But this won’t apply to pesticides - and that’s a big problem, according to the NGOs Générations Futures and Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe.

“It is shocking to find that PFAS, with their long-lasting environmental impacts, are intentionally sprayed on fields and food,” says Angeliki Lysimachou, head of science and policy at PAN Europe. “Given all the identified risks, their use should stop immediately.”

A new joint report from the two NGOs has found that 37 active substances currently approved for use in pesticides are PFAS. That equates to 12 per cent of all approved synthetic substances.

Why are PFAS in pesticides a problem?

PFAS are a growing cause for public concern. Recent research has revealed shocking findings - such as the news that rainwater almost everywhere on Earth has unsafe levels of forever chemicals.

This pollution has many potential sources, from chemical manufacturing plants to firefighting foams.

Pesticides, however, appear to have gone under the radar. Many people are unaware that active ingredients in pesticides can be PFAS where they are used to keep them effective for longer.

The investigation dug deep into their use in France, where it found that 30 active substances currently authorised for use in pesticides were PFAS. The sales of these substances have more than tripled since 2008, reaching 2,332 tonnes in 2021.

Analysing authorisation documents for the 10 best-selling pesticides containing PFAS, the researchers found that the vast majority of these chemicals stick around in the environment.

Flufenacet and Diflufenican from Bayer are the top-selling substances, says PAN Europe, with German data from the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) suggesting the same dramatic growth in Germany.

There are concerns that they are contaminating groundwater in France. The NGOs are also sounding the alarm about possible ‘cocktail effects’ of mixing chemicals, which they claim are not being assessed - even though marketed products sometimes contain several different PFAS.

Will the EU ban PFAS in pesticides?

The EU is planning to restrict the use of so called forever chemicals in Europe, but PFAS pesticides have been excluded from the scope of this restriction. The main argument is that these substances are already covered and sufficiently regulated under the Pesticides Regulation, the NGOs say.

According to this regulation, pesticides authorised in the EU should cause no adverse effects to humans and no unacceptable effects on the environment. Despite this, the report reveals that harmful pesticides continue to get approved for use in the production of food.

“It is urgent to ban this source of PFAS pollution. These pesticides should be included in the PFAS restriction currently being prepared at European level,” argues Salomé Roynel, policy officer at PAN Europe.

“That will take time, so we immediately need a better implementation of the pesticide regulation. We propose to apply the precautionary principle required by law and ban all PFAS pesticides now.”

"The aim is to stop people and the environment being exposed to these forever pollutants. There should be no exception for pesticides," adds Pauline Cervan, toxicologist and project leader of Générations Futures.

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The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and European Food Safety Association (EFSA) have been contacted for comment.

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