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New Evidence Shows Pesticides Contain PFAS, and the Scale of Contamination Is Unknown

The EPA knows that plastic containers are leaching toxic ‘forever chemicals’ into pesticides. But PFAS are also ending up in pesticides from other sources—in much higher quantities.

Once a year, researchers, agrichemical company representatives, and government officials get together at a conference dedicated to what they call pesticide stewardship. By their definition, stewardship includes improving the safety of pesticides, from manufacture to use to disposal.

At the most recent event last February, Ed Messina, director of the Office of Pesticide Programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), spoke to the virtual crowd. After running through at least a dozen other topics, he turned to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS—“forever chemicals” that companies have used for decades in products including non-stick pans, takeout containers, and cosmetics—causing long-term damage to the environment and human health.

Recent tests had detected PFAS in pesticides, Messina told the group.

The agency planned to release the results of more thorough tests done to determine whether PFAS were leaching from plastic containers into the pesticides, he added. “The data does indicate that the amount of PFAS entering the environment [via pesticides] is extremely small,” he assured attendees, “but we do want to get a handle on where the PFAS is coming from.”

Now, the EPA has released the results of the study on leaching, which confirmed the issue. But while the agency maintains Messina’s assertion that the amount getting into the environment as a result is not significant, it’s not the only source.