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Study: Southern California coastal counties lead country in termite tenting pollution

San Diego, LA, Orange counties lead the way in sulfuryl fluoride gas
Posted at 6:27 AM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 10:23:13-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A new study shows that three Southern California counties are the worst in the nation for sulfuryl fluoride emissions, the greenhouse gas used in termite tenting.

According to the study published recently in the journal Communications Earth and Environment, California accounts for 85% of the sulfuryl fluoride emissions in the U.S., with San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orange counties having the highest concentration. The study looked at more than 15,000 air samples from across the country.

"We were a little surprised," says Dr. Jens Muhle, with the Scripps Instition of Oceanography. He worked on the study, along with researchers from Johns Hopkins University.

"This is a great opportunity to talk a little bit about climate change and global warming," says Dr. Muhle. "I think it's important that public gets to reminded ... It is a real problem."

Sulfuryl fluoride is greenhouse gas that can stay in the atmosphere for up to 40 years, leading to global warming. But the California Air Resources board does not include it as one of their monitored greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr. Muhle believes they should, and doing so would give a much broader picture of the state's effort to eliminate greenhouse gases.

"The emissions of (sulfuryl fluoride) are similar in magnitude what California thinks it has achieved in emission reduction over the last couple of years," he says. "If you're trying to achieve emission reductions of several percent per year, then it becomes really hard to really be sure that works unless you do these atmospheric measurements."

A recent petition asked the CARB to add sulfuryl fluoride to their emissions list. The board rejected the idea in 2022, saying only a change to the state's health and safety code could do that. Meanwhile, the United Nations did not include it in the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, or as part of a Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But termite and pest control companies are fiercely divided over the issue.

ABC 10News Anchor Jared Aarons spoke with Yuriel Zuniga, the president of The Fume Team, a company that uses the gas in termite tenting. He also talked to Anna Carlin, who owns Xtermite, the leading proponent of Orange Oil for termite control.

"We've seen this coming for quite some time and I think this study really helps move that forward," says Carlin of the idea that the entire industry should move away from Sulfuryl Fluoride. "People have options. They don't have to use the hybrid toxic chemicals and poisonous gas."

Zuniga points out that sulfuryl fluoride is legal, heavily regulated, and still the best way to eliminate termites and other pests. He says it's also necessary to get rid of the type of termites found in California. The Drywood Termite can establish a colony without having contact with soil, so they're able to infest a home without needing to leave it.

"There are different products out there that you can use, but those are just to control the situation," Zuniga says. "That's why it's called control, pest control. Or just treatment. That's perfectly fine, orange oil or other products you can use. But it's just to do a spot treatment or control the situation. It's not to eliminate it."

Zuniga says the new study will likely lead to some changes among the industry, but he thinks it will adjust to a point where full home tenting is only seen as a last resort for the most extreme infestations.

Dr. Muhle says he could see companies using scrubbers to clean the air before ventilating a tented home. He also suggests more frequent inspections to prevent large-scale infestations.

"You know, there's always the excuse; It's too expensive. We can't do it. But at the end of the day, we oftentimes do find solutions which work for everyone," he says.

"We need to minimize that impact on our families and our home environment and work environment," adds Carlin. "So we need to make better choices in household products and gardening products and pest control products."