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FDA’s Ban on Chemicals Linked to Cancer and Birth Defects Is Five Years Too Late

Chemicals used in certain food packaging, such as pizza boxes, has been banned by the FDA. (Image: Pixabay via CC0 Public Domain)
Chemicals used in certain food packaging, such as pizza boxes, has been banned by the FDA. (Image: Pixabay via CC0 Public Domain)

Three chemicals used in pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, sandwich wrappers, and other food packaging have now been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Under pressure from environmental and health groups, the FDA banned the three types of perfluorinated compounds — or PFC’s — which have been linked to cancer and birth defects.

However, it does nothing to prevent food processors and packagers from using almost 100 related chemicals that may also be hazardous, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The FDA’s decision comes more than a decade after the EWG and other advocates made the FDA aware, and five years after U.S. chemical companies actually stopped making the chemicals.

However, the decision falls short with EWG President Ken Cook saying:

The packaging substances that are now banned by the FDA are Diethanolamine salts of mono- and bis phosphates, Pentanoic acid, and Perfluoroalkyl. These were used for protecting packaging from grease or other wetness from food.

EWG notes that the PFCs are “a class that includes the chemicals used to make DuPont’s Teflon and 3M’s Scotchgard.” Adding that because it was used in thousands of consumer products, the PFCs would have “polluted the blood” of nearly all Americans. The chemicals can also be passed through the umbilical cord to the fetus.

In 2005 Glenn Evers, a former DuPont engineer, exposed DuPont, saying for decades the company had hidden the fact that the chemical coating on food wrappers comes off and ends up in humans in far greater concentrations than originally approved.

According to The Washington Post Evers said: “We have a chemical that is bio-accumulating in every man, woman and child in America. DuPont stayed in the market strictly to make a buck.”

The EPA did make voluntary agreements in 2005 with DuPont, 3M, and other chemical companies to phase out the production and use of some PFCs. However, the EPA regulates chemicals in consumer products, and not chemicals in food, so compounds were not removed from the FDA’s list of substances approved for contact with food.

In 2008, EWG investigated the FDA’s safety assessments and approvals for the next-generation PFCs, and concluded that the agency failed to give adequate attention to the long-term health consequences of exposure to those substances, according to EWG.

The FDA has now approved 20 more PFC chemicals for use in food wrappers since 2008, making environmental and health groups concerned with the lack of public information on the safety of these substances.

David Andrews, an EWG Senior Scientist, who analyzed the more recent FDA approvals said:

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