'Safer' pesticide could create toxic mercury, study says

A farmer sprays pesticide on a rice field as the sun sets in Santa Fe, central Philippines on February 17, 2014
A farmer sprays pesticide on a rice field as the sun sets in Santa Fe, central Philippines on February 17, 2014

A compound in pesticides that replaced another banned for its harmful effects, may threaten humans and wildlife by reacting with mercury in natural water to form a toxic chemical, researchers said Tuesday.

Methyl iodide (CH3I) has been registered as a fumigant in several countries, "although its environmental impacts are not well understood," a team from the United States and China reported in the journal Nature Communications.

It replaces methyl bromide, phased out under the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the Earth-shielding ozone layer.

For the latest study, researchers probed the behaviour of the new compound, which was approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a fumigant in 2008, and since registered in several countries including Japan and New Zealand.

Compared with methyl bromide, degraded more slowly in soil and thus had a higher chance of ending up in natural water via runoff, the researchers said.

Once there, it could interact under sunlight with mercury to form methylmercury, they showed in lab experiments using pond water.

Methylmercury is the most dangerous and toxic form of mercury, and damages the brain and immune system. It can accumulate in fish.

"Fumigants are widely applied in agricultural fields to control pests and weeds," the researchers wrote, adding that with the phase-out of , use of methyl iodide was expected to increase "dramatically".

"This study shows that CH3I could also indirectly threaten the health of humans and wildlife by forming a (methyl mercury), suggesting the necessity of a more comprehensive risk assessment of CH3I as a ," they said.

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Journal information: Nature Communications

© 2014 AFP

Citation: 'Safer' pesticide could create toxic mercury, study says (2014, August 19) retrieved 15 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2014-08-safer-pesticide-toxic-mercury.html
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Aug 19, 2014
Typical EPA boondoggle - ban something that is mildly problematic and approve something to replace it that is far more toxic and dangerous - way to go, EPA, really going out of your way to protect us! [/sarc]

Aug 19, 2014
Methyl iodide is also more expensive = less environmentally friendly and it's acute toxicity (neurotoxicity, methylation agent) is higher (it kills many beneficial organisms in soil). IMO as a good fumigant could serve the methyl bisulfate or dimethycarbonate.

Aug 20, 2014
I'm glad I only got 30 more years on this rock. It's being destroyed by stupid people with College degrees at a alarming rate. We would have been better off if we never left the stone age. I can't wait to see the environmental disaster fracking will cause. This is going to be the grand dad of them all. Just keep looking the other way while they inject the planet with toxins. More smart people hard at work.

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