In 2019, Massachusetts sprayed a mosquito control pesticide called Anvil 10+10 from helicopters and airplanes over more than two million acres of the Commonwealth. The goal: to curb eastern equine encephalitis, a rare but serious disease spread by mosquitoes.
Yet this attempt to protect human health may have done more harm than good. Pesticides like Anvil are poisons by design, and we already know that they pose risks to people and the environment. Now it turns out that their risks are even greater than we had imagined.
Last fall, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) discovered toxic forever chemicals called PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in Anvil. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they never fully break down in the environment. PFAS also build up in our blood for years, and even a small amount can harm human health.
How Do Forever Chemicals End Up in Pesticides?
Since the mid-20th century, toxic PFAS chemicals have been used to manufacture hundreds of household products like nonstick cookware, food wrappers, water-repellant clothing, and stain-resistant fabric.
So how did they get there? The EPA believes that the PFAS in Anvil seeped in from the plastic containers that Anvil is stored in. That may be one source of the toxic chemicals, but there is likely more to the story. PFAS may be entering the pesticides unintentionally during the manufacturing process. Or, they may have been added deliberately, since federal law allows pesticide manufacturers to keep many of their products’ ingredients secret. (Clarke, the manufacturer of Anvil, denies that PFAS are used in any part of its supply chain.)
PEER’s initial PFAS testing has likely exposed just the tip of a toxic iceberg that no one knows the full size of yet, especially as they were only able to test for 36 out of 9,000 PFAS currently in use. The current evidence increasingly points to widespread contamination in pesticides.
What’s at Stake?
Discovering that an unknown number of pesticides could be contaminated with toxic forever chemicals is deeply alarming. In Massachusetts alone, Anvil was sprayed over many towns not only in 2019 but also in 2006, 2010, 2012.
PFAS contamination has been found in communities in every New England state, including at unsafe levels in the drinking water of several towns in New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. This is especially concerning because scientific studies show that PFAS may affect growth, learning, and behavior in infants and children and make it harder for women to get pregnant. They may interfere with natural human hormones and the immune system, increase cholesterol, and disrupt liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function. Researchers also suspect that some PFAS may increase the risk of cancer. No medical interventions will remove them from the body.
On top of these serious health threats, exposure to even small amounts of PFAS may not only make people more vulnerable to COVID-19 but also could diminish the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccines.
Many states and communities are spending millions of dollars to try to remove these toxic chemicals from drinking water. Continuing to spray PFAS-contaminated pesticides from aircraft undermines those clean-up efforts and puts communities and the environment at even greater risk.
The Solution: Make Sure Our Pesticides are PFAS-Free
The company that manufactures Anvil has temporarily withdrawn the pesticide from the market, and EPA has asked states to stop using it. This is a start, but it is far from the decisive action needed to protect our health and environment.
That is why CLF and PEER are demanding that regulators in every New England state immediately halt the use of any pesticides known to contain PFAS – not just Anvil. We also want them to test all pesticides for contamination – including those used by many homeowners and landscape companies – starting with those used most commonly. If PFAS are found in any of them, those pesticides must be taken off the market.
CLF and PEER are also calling on states to investigate the environmental and human health harms that have already resulted from PFAS-contaminated pesticides.
Mosquito spraying has already started in at least one Massachusetts town, and we are weeks away from bug season elsewhere in the state and New England. State leaders must act now to ensure that the very measures intended to protect our communities don’t put them at greater risk of harm from toxic forever chemicals.
Pesticides already pose a risk to people, pets, wildlife, and the environment. We cannot allow toxic forever chemicals to put us at even greater harm. Here’s how you can help:
- Contact your governor and state legislators to demand that any pesticides used and sold in your state are PFAS-free. Find contact information here:
- For those of you living in Massachusetts, show your support for two bills currently under consideration by the state legislature. The bills would establish an ecologically based mosquito control program and require all control pesticides to be free from PFAS.
Before you go… CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.