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Fruits and Vegetables Potentially Soaked With Toxic Flame Retardant Chemical

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Animal Studies Link Chemical to Cancer, Brain and Reproductive Disorders

WASHINGTON, -- Large plastic pallets used to ship, cool and store produce contain decabromodiphenyl ether (Deca), a flame retardant chemical and known neurotoxin that may leach onto the fruits and vegetables inside.

In a letter sent today, Richard Wiles, senior Vice President and for Policy and Communications of Environmental Working Group (EWG), urged Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the federal Food and Drug Administration, to order the food industry to stop using plastic pallets made with Deca.

Wiles pointed out that significant levels of Deca could accumulate during the standard food industry practice of “hydro-cooling” produce by submerging stacked pallets filled with fruits or vegetables in water or by dripping water over the pallets. As the water is recycled, its Deca concentration intensifies and leaves Deca residues on the produce.

Citing concerns that this practice could lead to Deca contamination of food, on April 29, 2009 Dr. Elizabeth Sánchez of the FDA’S Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition advised a Washington, D.C.-area consulting firm that Deca is “not authorized” as a component of plastic pallets used in the hydro-cooling produce. She said that FDA required pre-market approval for the chemical “to be used in contact with food.”

April 29 letter:

January 23 letter:

“Given the Agency’s decision that Deca-treated plastic food pallets are not authorized for use in hydro-cooling, the FDA must take action to ensure that they are not, in fact, used for this purpose,” Wiles wrote Hamburg.

According to statements by iGPS , the shipping industry’s largest plastic pallet supplier, plastic pallets are now being used by General Mills, Borders Melon Company, PepsiCo, Cott, Okray Family Farmsand Martoni Farm. The company said that Dole Foods and Kraft Foods are conducting trials of plastic pallets. If the iGPS statements are accurate, the food industry’s ongoing transition from wooden to plastic pallets raises the threat of Deca food contamination.

“This is yet another example of our tattered food and chemical safety net,” Wiles said in a separate statement. “Highly toxic chemicals creep into the food supply while no one in government is paying any attention.”

According to studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and academic scientists, Deca, like other flame-retardants, can disrupt brain and reproductive system development.

The EPA website says that some research on Deca has yielded "suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential." It cites studies showing increased incidence of four different cancers and non-cancerous tumors in rats and mice.

Other research cited by EPA has found that activity levels and behavior of mice exposed to Deca for a single day undergo notable changes associated with neurotoxicity. EPA says that “the neurotoxic effect of neonatal decaBDE exposure was persistent and also worsened with age.”

“Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, but contaminated produce pallets could cause millions of men, women and children to consume harmful levels of a chemical neurotoxin,” Wiles said. “A toxic chemical designed to suppress fire should not be allowed to taint the food we eat.”

As a result of the serious health risks presented by Deca, public health authorities in Maine and Washington State have restricted its use. State legislators in 10 states have proposed Deca bans this year.

See Mr. Wiles' letter to FDA.


EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

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