Press Release

Groups Petition FDA to Ban Toxic Chemicals Used in Pizza Boxes and Other Food Packaging

WASHINGTON (October 16, 2014) – The Natural Resources Defense Council and several groups today called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban several toxic chemicals allowed in food packaging, citing their potential to harm fetal development, male reproductive systems, pre-and-post natal brain development and to cause cancer.

The groups petitioned the FDA to remove perchlorate, which is added to sealing gaskets for food containers and to reduce static in dry food packaging, as well as a family of chemicals -- known as long-chain perfluorocarboxylates -- used to keep grease out of paper and paperboard, such as pizza boxes and sandwich wrappers.

“We already know that perchlorate is both toxic and widespread in food and the bodies of virtually all Americans, so adding more to packaging that can get into food is especially risky,” said Erik D. Olson, senior strategic director for health and food at NRDC. “FDA should ban this chemical immediately from food uses to protect pre-natal and young children from potentially permanent brain damage.”

Long-chain perfluorocarboxylates petition

Previously, the FDA’s food additive toxicologists had said that there were uncertainties about the safety of long-chain perfluorocarboxylates, or PFCs. The agency took the unprecedented step of asking three companies to stop using types of PFCs it had allowed since 2000 in food contact products in the United States, according to the petition addressing this chemical.

In 2011, all three voluntarily agreed. But, under FDA rules, perflurocarboxylates can still be used by manufacturers with overseas production in China and India, and shipped back into the U.S.

“FDA should swiftly ensure that these risky PFCs, which it has already asked domestic producers to stop using, aren’t sneaking into our food supply through pizza boxes or sandwich wrappers made overseas,” Olson said.

The petition notes that NRDC found 14 new studies from 2009 to 2014 supporting FDA’s earlier worries that these compounds may harm pre-natal and post-natal development, the reproductive system of men, and possibly the reproductive system of women. A study concluded that there is sufficient human evidence that pre-natal exposure to the perfluorocarboxylate PFOA reduces fetal growth, and another one classified PFOA as “known to be toxic” for human reproduction and development.

“Therefore, we request that FDA revoke the approvals it granted decades ago for the three classes of long-chain perfluorocarboxylates,” the petition states.

Perchlorate petition

The other petition, pertaining to perchlorate, addresses a chemical that is already widely present in the U.S. food and drinking water supply, according to an FDA investigation. In 2008, the agency published results showing that 59 percent of 1,065 food samples had perchlorate, with children between six months and 6 years old having the greatest exposures.

That is alarming because the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board makes it clear that infants are likely to be more affected by perchlorate than adults because their brains are undergoing development in the womb and in their younger years, the petition says. Because perchlorate could cause potentially irreversible harm to pre-natal and young children’s brains, the petition urges it be banned as an anti-static agent and in sealing gaskets involved manufacturing food containers and packaging.

The risk is especially significant if a pregnant and nursing woman consumes insufficient iodine—and the fact is many women consume too little iodine. Perchlorate interferes with the thyroid gland’s ability to make hormones from iodine.  These hormones are essential for brain development in infants and in fetuses, the petition states.

The perchlorate petition stemmed, in part, from data NRDC received from a Freedom of Information Act request examining scientific assessments the FDA relied on to grant approval in 2005 for perchlorate’s use in food packaging and as an anti-static agent. NRDC contends that the industry assessment FDA relied upon was flawed, including a crucial mathematical error.

Moreover, the group says that FDA conceded in 2011 that the assumptions it recommends that industry use to estimate chemical migration from packaging were also flawed, but according to NRDC the agency has not taken the needed step to update its guidance and reassess its approval of perchlorate effectively allowing it to continue to be used.

NRDC identified a recent brochure on the website of BASF, a leading global chemical company, noting that perchlorate is approved for bulk and industrial food and non-food packaging. In its petition, NRDC calls on FDA to issue new federal rules banning perchlorate from its currently approved uses in food processing and sealing gaskets.

A copy of the perchlorate petition is here:

A copy of the PHCs petition is here:

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