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Persistent Pollutants

EPA is accused of misreporting PFAS data

Public health group claims the agency detected PFAS in pesticides last year

by Britt E. Erickson
May 30, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 17


A tractor spraying pesticides on a field of crops.
Credit: Shutterstock
Public health advocates are challenging a 2023 analysis by the US Environmental Protection Agency that found no per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in pesticides.

The US Environmental Protection Agency falsely reported last year that it did not detect per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in pesticides, according to a complaint by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a public health advocacy group.

PEER claims that documents obtained from the EPA under the Freedom of Information Act show that the agency detected several PFAS in pesticides sent to it by an academic researcher and in pesticides the EPA purchased in early 2023. But in a May 2023 press release, the EPA states that it did not detect any PFAS in the pesticides.

The EPA’s analysis was prompted by research published in 2022 by scientists at Texas Tech University and the US Department of Agriculture (J. Hazard. Mater. Lett., DOI: 10.1016/j.hazl.2022.100067). The researchers reported finding perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) at low parts-per-million levels in 6 out of 10 pesticides used on a USDA research field.

At the EPA’s request, one of the researchers sent the agency samples of the pesticides. EPA scientists used a new extraction method that the agency says is more appropriate for pesticides formulated with surfactants than the solvent dilution method the Texas Tech and USDA researchers used in the 2022 study. The EPA reported that the new method did not reveal any PFAS in the pesticides.

PEER disputes the EPA’s negative results, noting that the researcher spiked the pesticide samples with PFOS before sending them to the agency. Spiking samples with a known concentration of an analyte is a common practice to confirm the accuracy of a lab’s analytical method. The EPA’s failure to report detecting PFAS in the spiked samples suggests serious scientific integrity violations, PEER says.

“EPA’s claim that it ‘did not find any PFAS’ in these pesticides is not only untrue but lulls the public into a false sense of security that these products are PFAS free,” Kyla Bennett, science policy director at PEER, says in a statement.

In a memo sent to PEER in April, the EPA denies any misconduct and maintains that it followed good laboratory practices in its analysis of PFAS in the pesticides. The agency has 90 days to respond to PEER’s complaint.



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