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:
“Industrial chemicals that pollute people’s blood clearly have no place in food packaging. But, it’s taken the FDA more than 10 years to figure that out, and it’s banning only three chemicals that aren’t even made any more.
“This is another egregious example of how, all too often, regulatory actions under the nation’s broken chemical laws are too little and too late to protect Americans’ health. Congress needs to ensure that chemicals that make their way into food, either as deliberate additives or as contaminants from packaging and other outside sources, are thoroughly investigated.”
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:
“We know very little about the safety of these next-generation PFCs in food wrappers. But, their chemical structure is very similar to the ones that have been phased out, and the very limited safety testing that has been done suggests they may have some of the same health hazards.
“To protect Americans’ health, the FDA and EPA should require that chemicals be proved safe before they are allowed on the marketplace.”