EU plans to extend permits for 20 pesticides, including 4 PFAS

The EU is planning to continue its toxic legacy. Despite the known dangers to health and the environment, no less than 20 pesticides are to receive an extended permit. Four of them are PFAS. This is one of the proposed decisions in this week’s meeting of the pesticides committee of the Commission and Member States ‘SCoPAFF’. PAN Europe provided expert advice on different points of the agenda to the country representatives. Some good decisions are coming after considerable delay. Most others, if approved, will fall short of the high level of protection required by law. Let's have a closer look into some of the proposals and why almost all should be opposed.

After a 7-year delay, the endocrine disrupting dimethomorph and mepanipyrim are to be banned … in 2025

Since 2019, decision-makers have known that dimethomorph is presumed to damage human fertility. Substances with such toxic properties must be banned immediately according to the EU Pesticide Law. Yet, while the dimethomorph approval had already expired in 2017, it continued to be extended year after year (seven times in total). The use of this substance exposes the most vulnerable European citizens to a genuine risk. It was not until it was also identified as an endocrine disruptor for humans and non-target species that the Commission finally proposed its ban at the end of 2023. However, the producers and farmers receive the maximum transitional and next grace period, so they could be used for another 6 + 12 months. This is delaying the moment when citizens and the environment will finally be protected from this substance. 

Another endocrine-disrupting substance - mepanipyrim - is proposed for a ban following seven prolongations of its initial approval period. In that case again, rather than proposing to make this ban as immediate as possible, the Commission is offering long periods for withdrawing the substance from the market (6 months + 12 months). These two cases show the Commission’s reluctance to put the safeguard of human health and the environment above production and market considerations, as it is yet required by law.

Possible endocrine-disrupting substances for renewal 

Commission and Member States will also discuss (without voting) about the proposal to renew two active substances while they may be endocrine disruptors. The first substance is the azole fungicide metconazole. As a growth regulator, the substance is an endocrine disruptor by design. This is confirmed by scientific literature. Moreover, other problems stand. Metconazole is suspected of ‘damaging the unborn child’ and forms the metabolite 1,2,4 triazole which is presumed to ‘damage fertility and the unborn child’. Furthermore, the use of azole fungicides stands as a significant source of the increasing incidence of environmental resistance to Aspergillus spp, which decreases the effectiveness of medicinal azole treatments.  

The second substance is metrafenone. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the available data requires more investigation on the substance’s endocrine properties on non-target species before conclusions can be drawn. This means that it cannot be established that the substance meets the approval criteria to be kept on the market and that in fact, indications show the opposite.

Extension for 20 pesticides, including 4 PFAS substances 

All the delays discussed earlier are mainly due to the systematic practice of the Commission to extend the approval of substances beyond their expiry date. This also happens when there are indications of risks to human health and/or the environment. PAN Europe has launched a legal action against the European Commission to challenge the legality of these repeated extensions at the expense of the protection of human health and the environment. 

This time, no fewer than 20 substances are proposed for extended approval, including 4 PFAS: fluometuron, prosulfuron, tau-fluvalinate, tembotrione. These so-called “forever chemicals” pose a high risk to human health and the environment as they accumulate in the environment, water systems and the food chain. A recent report by PAN Europe - based on official data from the EU Member State monitoring programmes for pesticide residues in food- revealed an increasing exposure of European consumers to PFAS pesticides. The presence of PFAS pesticides in fruit and vegetables has tripled in Europe between 2011 and 2021. While the EU pledged to phase out PFAS pollution in Europe in 2020, PFAS pesticides were left out of the ban proposal presented in early 2023. PFAS pesticides are a direct and deliberate source of PFAS pollution which must immediately be stopped by decision-makers but the Commission’s proposal disregards scientific alarms and political commitments.

Renewal of Captan: worrying end to a long saga for consumers and the environment

Captan is a fungicide whose approval originally was to expire in 2017 but has been prolonged six times so far, due to delays in the scientific assessment and decision-making progress and therefore still remains in the market. Captan has been on the agenda since 2021 but no decision has been taken. The reason for this is that, according to EFSA, the substance is so toxic to non-target species - particularly aquatic and terrestrial life (fish, insects etc)- that in principle it should not be renewed according to the EU law. 

However, instead of a ban, the Commission is proposing to renew the substance in greenhouses. This is on the assumption that they are closed spaces, which prevent emissions in the environment. However, they are not. A recent report by PAN Europe raised scientific alarms about the environmental impact of the use of pesticides in greenhouses. Field test data & scientific review- demonstrated that greenhouses do not control and certainly do not prevent pesticide emissions into the environment. The report has been shared with the Commission and Member States which are well aware that the greenhouse offers a false solution which bypasses the safety requirements of the pesticide law. Another source of concern regarding captan is that it is suspected of causing cancer and damaging fertility and whose degradation products in drinking water (metabolites) may share similar (repro)toxic properties.

Pendimethalin: no progress to ban this toxic12

In 2022, pendimethalin was added to the Toxic 12 list, which includes the most hazardous substances to be banned immediately. The hazard of pendimethalin lies in its persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic properties. It should be banned according to the pesticide law. Well aware of this, the applicant submitted more data to create confusion on the bioaccumulative properties of its substances. While the rules are clear the Commission keeps repeating it will ask for more guidance from EU agencies but no actual action has been taken over the last months. We wrote to the Commission to ask for the immediate ban of pendimethalin.

Read the full letter to SCoPAFF here, 18 March 2024

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