Credibility Gap: Are New Food Packaging Chemicals Any Safer?
WASHINGTON - DuPont and other chemical companies have promised to phase out a cancer-causing chemical found in grease-resistant coatings for food packaging. But the new, supposedly green chemicals the industry is pushing as a replacement may be no safer.
An investigation by Environmental Working Group (EWG) found there are almost no data publicly available on the health risks of the new chemicals, leaving in question whether food packaging and other products using them are any less hazardous to people and the environment. EWG found that DuPont and other manufacturers are continuing a decades-long pattern of deception about the perfluorinated chemicals known as PFCs.
The report, “Credibility Gap: Toxic Chemicals in Food Packaging and Dupont’s Greenwashing,” is available at https://www.ewg.org/research/credibility-gap-toxic-chemicals-food-packaging-and-duponts-greenwashing.
“Calling these replacement chemicals ‘green’ is like saying you’re safer driving a car at 150 miles an hour instead of 200,” said Olga Naidenko, PhD, an EWG senior scientist. “Just like the chemicals they’re replacing, these new compounds are extraordinarily persistent in the environment, they are already found in people’s blood and they cross the placenta to contaminate babies before birth.”
In 2006, DuPont and 7 other companies, under pressure from the EPA, agreed by 2015 to phase out PFOA, a persistent breakdown product of perfluorinated chemicals in fast-food wrappers, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn and other food packaging. PFOA has been termed a “likely human carcinogen” by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. Even as it agreed to a phase-out, however, DuPont has insisted – in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary – that PFOA does not harm human health or the environment. But EWG’s investigation found:
- DuPont’s own scientific advisors disagree with the company’s repeated assertions that PFOA is safe, calling them “Somewhere between ‘misleading’ and ‘disingenuous’" and adding that “Such a statement is misleading, whether intentionally or not, and it is unacceptable to mislead in this way."
- Since 2007, various PFC manufacturers have reported to the EPA 19 different new, unpublished studies showing “substantial risks” to human health and the environment from fluorochemicals, but under EPA rules shielding “confidential business information,” in 17 cases the companies redacted the name of the specific chemical and did not disclose its intended uses.
- There is little reason to believe that the industry’s voluntary phaseout program will effectively reduce human exposure to PFCs because it excludes packaging made in China and because, again, significant portions of the data on the program’s progress are shielded as proprietary.
“DuPont and the rest of the chemical industry are continuing a decades-long pattern of cover-ups and non-disclosure about the serious hazards of these chemicals,” said Naidenko. “When the industry talks about the safety of existing PFCs or their replacements, they have very little credibility.”
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.
This post was updated on February 4, 2019