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Experts raise health concerns after study finds California leads nation in potent pest-killing pollutant: '[It] has sort of slipped under the radar'

The study revealed that the state accounts for 60% to 85% of the nation's pollution from the gas.

The study revealed that the state accounts for 60% to 85% of the nation's pollution from the gas.

Photo Credit: iStock

California is well known as a pioneer in environmental legislation aimed at a cleaner future. However, a new study revealed that the state is leading the United States in an unfortunate category: the production of a potent, toxic heat-trapping gas called sulfuryl fluoride.

What's happening?

The findings, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, reveal that California accounts for 60% to 85% of the nation's pollution from sulfuryl fluoride, a gas commonly used as a pesticide and in the storage of some agricultural products

Inside Climate News reported that the study was released after the California Air Resources Board turned down a request to transition away from the gas and refused to include the pollutant in its reporting of its planet-warming pollution.  

"This is a greenhouse gas that is not being treated as a greenhouse gas and has sort of slipped under the radar," Johns Hopkins University health and engineering researcher Dylan Gaeta, the study's lead author, told the online platform. 

Why is this important?

Methane has rightfully received a lot of attention for its problematic impact on our planet's temperatures, as it has around 28 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide, or CO2. 

However, that pales in comparison to the estimated impact of sulfuryl fluoride, according to Inside Climate News. Experts believe this gas has 7,510 times more heat-trapping power than CO2 on a pound-for-pound basis, effectively adding thickness to the insulation in the atmosphere. The 260 tons of sulfuryl fluoride that California releases is equivalent to the planet-warming pollution of roughly 465,000 gas-powered vehicles. 

Rising global temperatures driven by human activities have caused an increase in severe weather events around the world, destroying crops and costing taxpayers money. Before the end of last summer, the U.S. had already experienced a record number of billion-dollar disasters

Sulfuryl fluoride is also harmful to human health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services outline a long list of severe issues linked to inhalation of the gas, including nausea, liver and kidney damage, reproductive problems, and cancer. 

What's being done about this?

CARB spokesperson Lys Mendez told Inside Climate News that the organization would continue to monitor information and research about the effects of sulfuryl fluoride and partner with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. While the board did deny the Center for Biological Diversity's formal petition, this could lead to meaningful action. 

"As part of its commitment to address greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on human health, CARB will track information as it becomes available before it can determine any future action … including availability of pest control alternatives," Mendez said.

In the meantime, there are a number of promising solutions to pest control in development. University of Tokyo scientists are experimenting with pheromones to humanely trap rats, while researchers from Oregon State University developed a musical robot that uses sound to limit pest reproduction. 

If you are among the many people enjoying the financial and health benefits of growing your own food, there are also plenty of chemical-free ways to control unwanted creatures in your garden.

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