Industry Agrees to Cut Back on 'Greaseproofing' Chemicals
C-8 compounds used on pizza boxes, popcorn bags -- but at what cost?
Saturday, July 7, 2012
It's not just food we have to worry about but also what it's wrapped in. The chemical industry and the Food and Drug Administration have reached an agreement to begin phasing out the so-called "C-8" group of chemical compounds widely used in pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, fast food wrappers and other food packaging.
The chemicals basically make the food wrappers more grease-proof -- so the grease from your pizza doesn't make the box completely soggy by the time the delivery guy gets it to your door. Thus, just to be clear, what we're talking about here is potentially dangerous chemicals being used to keep unhealthy grease off your fingers and furniture while you scoop it into your mouth.
But environmental activists say the agreement to phase out toxic perfluorinated compounds doesn't go far enough.
“Prior to this voluntary phase-out, these manufacturers have polluted the planet with these persistent and carcinogenic compounds,” Renee Sharp, Environmental Working Group (EWG) senior scientist, said. “While we’re glad that some progress is being made to take these harmful chemicals off the market, the chemical industry hardly deserves a pat on the back.”
The FDA announced earlier this week that five of these compounds, known as “C-8” compounds, “will no longer be sold for application on paper or paperboard intended for food contact use.”
The five chemicals are all very similar to PFOA, one of the most notorious and widespread chemicals ever made. Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is found in the blood of more than 98 percent of Americans, builds up in the food chain, contaminates wildlife around the globe, and is linked to a wide array of health effects. In April of this year, an independent scientific panel approved by the DuPont company as part of a class action lawsuit linked PFOA to kidney and testicular cancer in humans.
In 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency fined DuPont $10 million – the largest civil penalty ever levied under any environmental statute at the time – for hiding information that PFOA was a serious public health risk.
Chemical manufacturers have been moving at a snail’s pace to protect the public from the dangers posed by these compounds, EWG said. Unfortunately, while manufacturers came up with substitutes after the FDA and the industry agreed to phase out C-8 compounds, public records show that some of these alternatives may be just as bad or worse.
PFOA is sometimes called C-8 because it has 8 carbon atoms. A key replacement chemical, perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), contains 6 carbon atoms and is often called C6. The chemical industry would have us believe that the removal of two carbon atoms removes human health risks. Yet these C-6 compounds are extraordinarily persistent in the environment, cross the placenta to contaminate children before birth and are potentially 3 to 5 times more toxic than C-8 to aquatic organisms.
A 2008 EWG review of FDA safety assessments for 8 new fluorochemical-based food packaging chemicals found no evidence that FDA adequately assessed the safety of people's exposures to C-6 from these coatings, and found the toxicity data for the C-8 replacements to be sparse.
“Health agencies should be looking beyond food packaging to see the full use of these disturbing compounds,” Sharp said. “Until manufacturers conduct transparent, thorough safety analyses of these materials, we cannot trust their green-washed replacements.”