California to Ban Carcinogenic Food Packaging Chemical DuPont Claims is Safe

The toxic chemical Perfluorooctanoic Acid—more commonly known as <"">PFOA—has been found to be present in 98 percent of Americans’ blood and 100 percent of newborns’ blood.  Meanwhile, the chemical industry says there’s no reason to worry about PFOA in our bloodstreams.

Packaging for many common products, such as microwave popcorn or frozen pizza, contains PFOA, a chemical that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long considered to be potentially carcinogenic.  PFOA is also used to make Teflon pans, Gore-Tex clothes, and to prevent food from sticking to paper packaging.  PFOA 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 that 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.

State Senator Ellen Corbett, Democrat-San Leandro, agrees and has drafted legislation—SB 1313—banning PFOA and a similar compound in any food packaging sold in California by 2010.  SB 1313 has been approved by the state Senate and passed the Assembly Health Committee last month and is expected to appear before the full Assembly in the next few weeks.  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.

“I was shocked to learn that people are being exposed to toxic chemicals in foods they serve to their family and may ingest every day,” Corbett said adding that she was troubled that it is almost impossible to know which manufacturers use PFOA in their packaging because there are no labeling requirements for the toxins.

The bill also bans perfluorooctane sulfate, or PFOS, a chemical used in stain-resistant materials and which has been linked to bladder cancer and liver problems.  PFOS is also present in most people’s blood and accumulates over time.

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