A rare greenhouse gas comes from termite pesticide. | Trending Viral hub

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A rare greenhouse gas comes from termite pesticide.

Up to 85 percent of U.S. emissions of sulfuryl fluoride (a rare greenhouse gas and common pesticide used to treat termites) come from California.

Hand pulling a piece of wood damaged by tremites.

Roof damaged by termites.

Credit:

eyesphoto/Getty Images

CLIMATE CABLE | A little-known greenhouse gas is slowly building up in Earth’s atmosphere. And a large portion of those emissions come from California, a state that otherwise has aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals.

That’s according to a new study that tracked U.S. emissions of sulfuryl fluoride, a pesticide commonly used to treat termites and other household insects. The colorless gas is effective at treating insects, but it has an unwanted side effect: it has a planet-warming effect when it leaks into the atmosphere.

Studies suggest that up to 17 percent of global sulfuryl fluoride emissions may come from the U.S. And the new study, published Wednesday in the journal Earth and Environment Communicationssuggests that between 60 and 85 percent of those US emissions leave California.


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The study analyzed data from NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, which collects air samples from monitoring stations or aircraft around the world. The program monitors atmospheric concentrations of dozens of different greenhouse gases, including sulfuryl fluoride.

The researchers found that the largest sulfuryl fluoride hot spots in the United States were concentrated at a few monitoring stations in Southern California.

Still, winds and other climate-related factors mean that emissions don’t always originate in the places where they are detected: they could have arrived from somewhere else. So the researchers investigated further using a special type of model that takes into account atmospheric circulation patterns and other factors.

The model confirmed that the majority of emissions come from California, particularly Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.

The researchers suggest this is likely due to the state’s high use of sulfuryl fluoride for fumigation purposes.

The western United States is home to a species of termite known as the western drywood termite, which can be difficult to treat. Unlike other species found in other parts of the country, it does not need plants or soil to stay alive; instead, it builds its colonies directly on high areas of wooden structures without foraging on the ground. That makes fumigation more effective compared to other types of pesticide treatments, such as termite bait.

The state of California’s own data indicates that about 85 percent of sulfuryl fluoride use in the state is for fumigation purposes. And state records also suggest that its use has gradually increased since at least 2007.

“For most greenhouse gases, California has been very intentional about reducing emissions,” study lead author Dylan Gaeta, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement. “This one has gone unnoticed.”

California has a statewide climate goal that aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below their 1990 levels by 2030. But while the state classifies sulfuryl fluoride as a pollutant that warms the climate, it has not yet added to its greenhouse gas emissions. gas inventory or its climate change outreach planthat establishes a path to achieve its climate goals.

In fact, it is only relatively recently that scientists have realized the warming potential of sulfuryl fluoride.

The chemical first became popular after the world’s nations signed the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which phased out the use of ozone-depleting substances. One of those ozone-devouring chemicals was a fumigant called methyl bromide, which has largely been replaced by sulfuryl fluoride over the years.

A 2021 studyUsing archived air samples, it found that global emissions and atmospheric concentrations of sulfuryl fluoride have been increasing since at least 1978. And it suggests that recent increases have been driven in part by increased use of fumigation in North America. .

Initially, scientists believed that sulfuryl fluoride had a short life in the atmosphere and therefore a relatively low warming effect. But in 2008 and 2009, studies revealed that the gas actually lasts about 36 years in the atmosphere, prompting scientists to significantly revise their estimates of its warming potential.

Compared to gases such as carbon dioxide or methane, the primary targets of global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, the global impact of sulfuryl fluoride remains small. But because of its continued accumulation in the atmosphere, it is still worth tracking, the authors of the new study say.

New research reveals that regulations in California could have a huge effect on emissions nationwide. And implementing restrictions on sulfuryl fluoride could also help the state accelerate its progress toward its own greenhouse gas reduction goals, the study authors add.

“California’s track record shows that it has been looking for innovative and creative ways to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions,” study co-author Scot Miller, another Johns Hopkins researcher, said in a statement. “I believe that knowing better what the emissions are and what impact they have will give the state the information it needs to help comprehensively develop greenhouse gas reduction strategies.”

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2024. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environmental professionals.

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