ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJLA) — More than 12,000 pesticides are registered for use in the State of Maryland. They're applied to everything from the crops we eat and the food we feed to livestock, to our homes and lawns.
In 2022, 2,100 Maryland communities had pesticides sprayed into the air to control insects. Now, new research shows some of the most common pesticides contain dangerous levels of PFAS, a class of what are called “forever chemicals” because they never break down or go away. PFAS have been linked to cancers and other serious health problems.
“If there's PFAS in pesticides, they don't really break down ever. They're essentially there for all eternity,” said Dr. Steven Lasee.
Lasee is an exposure expert on contaminants in the air, water and soil. His recent research at Texas Tech on PFAS in pesticides has gotten the attention of the scientific community as well as lawmakers and activists across the country.
“It’s very straightforward,” said Lasee. “This is a toxic chemical that is in products that are being applied to our food and it doesn't necessarily need to be there."
Lasee recently testified before the Maryland legislature about some of his more alarming discoveries, including finding PFAS in the cells of the plants we eat that were sprayed with pesticides. Chemical levels were thousands of times higher than what the EPA states a person should consume in drinking water during their lifetime.
“Whatever you're exposed to today, in 10 years, half of it [PFAS] will probably still be in your body,” said Lasee. “And that's a really big problem when you're exposed to it every single day, potentially through your food.
Agriculture is Maryland’s number one industry and a driving factor for a coalition of groups working to pass a statewide bill that would ban PFAS in Maryland’s pesticides.
It’s called the Pesticide Registration, PFAS Testing, Requirements Bill (SB 158/ HB 319), and it would phase out the use of pesticides in Maryland that contain PFAS and require periodic testing for compliance with the law.
“It’s linked to numerous cancers including prostate, breast cancer, liver cancer, kidney cancer,” said Bonnie Raindrop.
Raindrop is the coordinator of the Smart on Pesticides coalition.
“It’s also linked to the increasing epidemic of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is becoming a real issue all over the world," Raindrop added.
She and others took Lasee's research one step further.
“We looked at the active ingredients that he tested for, and then we compared that with the pesticides that are registered in Maryland,” said Raindrop. “And there are over 300 pesticides that contain the same active ingredients that Dr. Lasee's research found were containing PFAS.”
And it's not just Maryland.
Researchers said these PFAS-laden pesticides are used across the country.
“If the intent was to spread PFAS contamination across the globe, there would be few more effective methods than lacing pesticides with PFAS," said scientist and former EPA attorney, Kyla Bennett.
Scientists said putting it in pesticides increases the likelihood the chemical will widely enter the air, soil, and groundwater.
A recent 7News I-Team investigation tested drinking water around D.C., Virginia and Maryland and found PFAS coming out of taps across the area, including in the EPA’s D.C. headquarters.
Lasee said the more PFAS is uncovered in our daily environments, the more important it becomes to act.
“They [PFAS] are kind of everywhere and that is completely true. But the idea that we would continue to allow them to be everywhere when we have all the power to stop that from going on, is ludicrous," said Lasee.
Ruth Berlin, Executive Director of the Maryland Pesticide Education Network agrees.
“We continue to expose everybody in our state to potentially pesticides containing PFAS," said Berlin. "We can’t wait a year or two or three because PFAS can affect generations to come, it can affect a pregnant woman’s baby for its lifetime. This is a major concern and has been called by some scientists one of the biggest environmental crises of our time.”
The bill to ban PFAS in pesticides is currently held up in Maryland State Senator Brian Feldman’s committee. 7News has been in touch with his office but has not been able to get confirmation on his intentions with the bill.