What started out as a practical way to keep food from sticking to pans and paper, may not be so great for our health. PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is a synthetic (man-made) chemical that is used to coat Teflon cookware as well as the packaging of many fast-food products, including pizza boxes and fast food wrappers. It’s also used in stain-resistant fabric and Gore-Tex clothing, and if a California bill succeeds, it will be gone from food packaging, at least in that state.
California Senator Ellen Corbett has drafted a bill (SB 1313) that would ban PFOA in food packaging sold in California by 2010. The senator has said there’s no reason to continue to make products containing PFOA when there are safe alternatives that responsible corporations are already using. Some companies have discovered more natural clay-based options.
The Environmental Protection Agency has identified PFOA as a potential carcinogen and has instituted a voluntary reduction plan for companies that make PFOA. The plan “invites companies” to reduce PFOA in products by 95 percent by 2010 and “to work toward” eliminating it no later than 2015.
Environmentalists, however, say voluntary reductions are not enough.
PFOA is a toxic chemical that gets absorbed into the food product it is wrapped around. It is present in 98 percent of Americans’ blood and 100 percent in newborns, says Bill Walker, vice president of the Environmental Working Group. A scientist with the EWG reports that each molecule of PFOA made today doesn’t break down. Because it exists forever, PFOA contaminates the environment, the food chain and the population.
The chemical industry has argued that exposure to a small dose of PFOA is not dangerous, but Walker calls this “outmoded science.”
“We now know that small amounts of PFOA exposure at the wrong time – such as to the fetus or to an infant, are of even more concern than PFOA exposure to an adult.”
A spokeswoman for Corbett’s office said they hope the bill reaches the governor’s office by the end of August. The EWG, a sponsor of the bill, assisted the governor’s office with the science that backs up the proposal.
Should California pass the bill, Walker says, this may have a domino effect across the country.
“A lot of times a bill in California will make a difference. We’d like to see a federal law passed to protect the consumer.” The voluntary phase-out program proposed by the EPA is not as good as a ban.
“There’s no binding agreement, no fines. It also doesn’t affect overseas products that come into the U.S.,” Walker says.
PFOA is found in the paper packaging of not only drive-thru burger joints, but microwave popcorn, candy wrappers, some pizza boxes and many frozen food products. The problem is that it’s not listed on the labels of the packaging, so consumers don’t know how to avoid it. And even with labels, Walker argues, consumers probably wouldn’t notice.
A few companies have voluntarily chosen to not use packaging made with PFOA – Burger King, Wendy’s and Krispy Kreme, among them.
As for microwave popcorn, people can skip the bagged version (saving packaging as well as potential PFOA exposure) and pop it the old-fashioned way in a popcorn popper or on the stove.
Using fresh, rather than frozen or fast-food, products can be another way to avoid the chemical, those it may not offer some of the efficiencies we’ve become accustomed to.
The dangers of PFOA came to the EPA’s attention in the ‘80s when a whistleblower from DuPont , the primary maker of PFOA, told the EPA that DuPont was aware of the chemical’s dangers, but was doing nothing about it. The company was fined $16.5 million — $10 million in penalties plus an additional $6 million to conduct research on alternative products. Prior to DuPont, the 3M Company was responsible for making the majority of products with PFOA.
In 2000, 3M quit using the chemical when it discovered PFOA was building up in people’s bodies, including their own workers.
Scientist Glen Evers, the whistleblower who worked for DuPont for 22 years describes Sen. Corbett’s legislation as “groundbreaking.”
“This [legislation] will stop the use of toxic chemicals that pollute our blood and devastate our environment,” he says on the governor’s website. “If a company can stop production of perfluorinated chemicals at a $100 million business in three months as 3M did, I am proud to see the Senate can act just as quickly to make other companies follow suit.”
DuPont maintains that the legislation is unnecessary because the treatment of food packaging with PFOA has not been found to be hazardous by previous regulatory testing.
“SB1313 overrules consistent research results and regulatory decisions on
food and product safety made by expert scientists at the US Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), California Environmental Protection Agency
(CalEPA/Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment (OEHHA), and the
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” a company spokesman said in a statement.
“In addition, this bill would also ban many alternatives, some of which have
recently been approved by the FDA,” said DuPont spokesman Dan Turner. “SB1313 takes the decision on the safety of an important consumer product out of the hands of state and federal food and environmental scientists – the experts who are best positioned and qualified to make this important call.
Dale Kemery, an EPA spokesman, reports the agency’s risk assessment of PFOA is not complete. In the meantime, he says, “Our global stewardship program inviting companies to reduce PFOA is aimed at reducing the chemical’s impact on the environment.”
National toxic chemical reform is necessary on many fronts, says the EWG’s Walker, who adds that the government is going about it backwards. The way it should work, he says, “is that we should prove something is safe before allowing it on the market, not the other way around.”
Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media