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FDA bans cancer-linked chemicals from food packaging in the US

The US Food and Drug Administration is banning three grease-resistant chemical substances from food packaging.

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The chemicals, which are linked to cancer and birth defects, are used in pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, sandwich wrappers and other food packaging.

The FDA’s belated action comes more than a decade after the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and other advocates sounded alarms and five years after US chemical companies stopped making the chemicals. According to EWG, it does nothing to prevent food processors and packagers from using almost 100 related chemicals that may also be hazardous.

“Industrial chemicals that pollute people’s blood clearly have no place in food packaging,” said EWG president Ken Cook. “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 banned by FDA, in an order that takes effect 1 Feb, are perfluorinated compounds or PFCs, a class that includes the chemicals used to make DuPont’s Teflon and 3M’s Scotchgard. EWG said that, through their use in thousands of consumer products, PFCs have polluted the blood of virtually all Americans. They can be passed through the umbilical cord to the fetus. They contaminate drinking water for more than 6.5 million people in 27 states, according to water tests conducted by the US Environmental Protecction Agency.

In 2005, former DuPont engineer Glen Evers revealed that for decades, DuPont had hidden its use of a PFC-based coating in paper food packaging, despite evidence that PFCs were harmful to human health. Following Evers’ disclosures, EWG wrote to the leaders of numerous fast-food companies, asking them to disclose whether their companies used PFCs in food wrappers. Burger King and some other companies said they would stop using wrappers with certain PFCs. In 2008, the California Legislature approved an EWG-backed bill to ban some PFCs in food packaging, but it was vetoed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Although the three chemicals were no longer made in the US as of 2011, the possibility remained that food packaging with those chemicals made in other countries could be imported to America. In October 2014, EWG and eight other groups petitioned the FDA to bar them from its list of approved food-contact materials.

Over the past decade, chemical companies have introduced dozens of chemicals similar to those phased out under the EPA-led deal. The FDA has approved almost 100 other PFC compounds for use in food packaging.

The FDA ban comes in response to a petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Food Safety, the Breast Cancer Fund, the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Water Action, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children’s Environmental Health Network, Improving Kids’ Environment and EWG.