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Questions and Answers about EPA’s Sulfuryl Fluoride Actions

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How is the pesticide sulfuryl fluoride related to fluoride?

Sulfuryl fluoride breaks down to fluoride after it is applied. EPA established residue limits (known as tolerances) for fluoride on the food commodities approved for treatment with sulfuryl fluoride.

What is sulfuryl fluoride used for?

Sulfuryl fluoride is registered as a fumigant for control of insect pests in closed structures (grain processing facilities, domestic dwellings, garages, barns, storage buildings, etc.) and their contents (cereal grains, dried fruits, tree nuts, etc.) In July 2005, EPA approved sulfuryl fluoride for direct treatment of additional harvested and processed food commodities such as coffee and cocoa beans, and for fumigation of food handling and processing facilities. Uses of sulfuryl fluoride that do not come in contact with food are not affected by this action.

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I thought fluoride was good for me, so why should I be concerned about getting too much of it?

The amount of fluoride the public is exposed to has increased over the last several decades since the introduction of drinking water fluoridation and consumer dental products (such as fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinses). This has led to a large decline in the prevalence of tooth decay, but has also been accompanied by a modest increase in dental fluorosis, a condition that can cause effects ranging from barely visible lacey white markings, to more severe staining or pitting of the tooth’s enamel. While the proper levels of fluoride provide important benefits to dental health, the majority of the US population is not exposed to excessive levels. However, fluoride exposure is too high for some children, particularly those who live in areas that has high naturally occurring fluoride in their drinking water, which are in excess of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended fluoridation levels.

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What are sources of fluoride exposure?

Fluoride can occur in drinking water naturally as a result of the geological composition of soils and bedrock. Some areas of the country have high levels of naturally occurring fluoride which can dissolve easily into ground water as it moves through gaps and pore spaces between rocks. Fluoride can also be added to public drinking water supplies as a public health measure for reducing cavities among the treated population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides recommendations about the optimal levels of fluoride in drinking water in order to prevent tooth decay. The decision whether or not to add fluoride to drinking water is made on a local basis.

Consumers served by public water systems who wish to learn about fluoridation of their drinking water can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s My Water’s Fluoride (MWF) Web site at http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/MWF/Index.asp.

Fluoridated toothpaste is another main source of fluoride intake. Other fluoride-containing dental products are applied or prescribed by a health care professional such as gels, varnishes, pastes and restorative materials. These products are used only occasionally on the outside of the tooth and do not contribute much to the total intake of fluoride. Small amounts of fluoride can also come from industrial emissions, pharmaceuticals and pesticides.

For more information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/fact_sheets/cwf_qa.htm

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How much of total fluoride exposure is due to sulfuryl fluoride?

Residues of fluoride due to fumigating commodities, mills, and bakeries with sulfuryl fluoride constitute less than three percent of the total exposure to fluoride.

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Why is sulfuryl fluoride important in the context of the phase out of methyl bromide in the Montreal Protocol?

Methyl bromide is a broad spectrum pesticide used in the control of pest insects, nematodes, weeds, pathogens, and rodents. In the United States, methyl bromide is used in agriculture, primarily for soil fumigation, as well as for commodity and quarantine treatment, and structural fumigation. The Montreal Protocol is an international treaty developed to protect the earth from the detrimental effects of stratospheric ozone depletion. The United States ratified the Montreal Protocol in 1988. In 2009, the Montreal Protocol became the first universally ratified international environmental treaty. The Parties to the Montreal Protocol agreed to specific reduction steps that lead to the phase-out of production and import of ozone-depleting substances, including methyl bromide. Methyl bromide, considered a significant ozone depleting substance and the primary fumigant used to control pests in stored products for decades, was phased out under the Montreal Protocol by the end of 2004, except for specific exemptions. Since sulfuryl fluoride is an important alternative to methyl bromide, and because sulfuryl fluoride use is a very small contributor to overall exposure, EPA has proposed a three year phase out of use of sulfuryl fluoride.

For more information on methyl bromide, visit the methyl bromide questions & answers webpage.

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