California Assembly Approves PFOA Ban on Food Wraps

The Associated Press is reporting that the California Assembly has reversed itself and approved a bill  to limit the amount of the chemical <"">Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) that has been linked to cancer in food packaging.  The measure—by Senator Ellen Corbett-Democrat-San Leandro—would permit no more than 10 parts per billion (ppb) of PFOA in food packing such as fast-food wrappers, pizza boxes, and beverage containers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers PFOA potentially carcinogenic and says businesses should voluntarily stop using it by 2015.  A spokeswoman for Corbett said the bill would make California the first state to essentially ban use of the compound in food containers; 10 ppb is the smallest PFOA amount detectable by tests.  Although the Assembly rejected the bill last week, lawmakers reconsidered it after Corbett agreed to make a minor amendment.  Yesterday’s vote of 42-29 returned the bill to the Senate for a vote on Assembly amendments.

In July, we reported that Corbett drafted legislation—SB 1313—banning PFOA and a similar compound in any food packaging sold in California by 2010.  SB 1313 was approved by the state Senate and passed the Assembly Health Committee in June and was pending appearance before the full Assembly.  Although seen as a good first step, Corbett’s legislation offers no enforcement mechanism, so state authorities would be unable to act when a company was found to be in violation the ban.  The bill also bans perfluorooctane sulfate, or PFOS, a chemical used in stain-resistant materials that has been linked to bladder cancer and liver problems.

PFOS is present in most people’s blood and accumulates over time and PFOA has been found to be present in 98 percent of Americans’ blood and 100 percent of newborns’ blood.  But, the chemical industry says there’s no reason to worry about PFOA in our bloodstreams.

PFOA is used to make Teflon pans, Gore-Tex clothes, and to prevent food from sticking to paper packaging and is part of a larger group of chemicals known as perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs.  When heated, PFCs break down into compounds that can be absorbed into food and enter the bloodstream.  In 2005, Federal investigators found PFOA is a “likely carcinogen” and called for expanded testing to study its potential to cause liver, breast, testicular, and pancreatic cancers.  The following year, the EPA invited all companies involved with PFOA to join a voluntary “stewardship program” to reduce use and emissions of the chemical by 2010 and eliminate it by 2015.

Because PFOA does not break down, it remains and accumulates in the body’s system over time.  Despite this, the chemical industry says there’s no reason to worry about PFOA and says that while the EPA’s cancer concerns are based on animal tests, there’s no evidence that PFOA is harmful to humans.  “I still serve frozen pizza in my house,” said Dan Turner, a spokesman for DuPont Co., the only U.S. manufacturer of PFOA. “I serve microwave popcorn to my three-year-old.”  Despite Turner’s cavalier attitude, public-health advocates say the industry is being deceitful.  “There’s never been a chemical found that affects animals but has no effect on humans,” said Bill Walker, vice president of the Environmental Working Group.  “I don’t know about you,” he added, “but I don’t like chemicals building up in my blood, even when the chemical industry says there’s no risk.”  Walker also points out that the EPA’s voluntary phase-out does not apply to Chinese companies, which are among the leading manufacturers of food packaging.

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