Chemicals in Pizza Boxes, Popcorn Bags and More Banned as Carcinogenic

chemicalsDelivery pizza and microwave popcorn are not exactly health foods, but it turns out that the packaging was worse for consumers than the food. So, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it is banning three a trio of chemicals used in pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags and other types of food packaging for being carcinogenic and possibly causing birth defects. However, they announced that the chemicals would no longer be used years after they stopped being made in the U.S. for health concerns.

The three chemicals are perfluorinated and create greaseproof coating on paper wrappers and containers for food. Designed to keep the oil and grease in the food from leaking through the packages, the chemical coatings have been used in various products and forms, such as the classic cardboard pizza box, and fast-food sandwich wrappers, for 50 years. However, environmental groups and researchers raised concerns that the compounds are toxic and potentially cancer causing.

Perfluorinated chemicals, which are more widely known as C8 compounds because their perfluorinated chains of 8 or more carbons (C8), have been criticized after studies showed they have harmful effects on the environment, humans and animals. Studies showed them to be potentially carcinogenic and can cause birth defects. In response, the FDA began a comprehensive review of information gathered on the C8 compounds and their effects.

The FDA’s action is long overdue. It is over 10 years since the Environmental Working Group and other organizations advocated for the removal of the C8 in food-related products. In fact, U.S. chemical companies reportedly stopped making them five years ago, but they are still made in other places and were being used in countless food packaging products.

Admittedly, use has dwindled as manufacturers who stopped using the C8 compounds to greaseproof their containers, replaced them with other chemical mixtures. However, existing supplies of containers and packaging using the chemicals were allowed to still be used until they run out. Revoking that permission to use up the containers is what the FDA did. They took something they know was potentially dangerous off the market, but waited until there is not much left of it.

The FDA announcement even acknowledges that the materials are not likely to be in many pizza boxes or other packaging today. The agency issued a statement, “Although it appears that manufacturers generally have stopped using these products [chemicals], FDA’s action means that any continued use of the perfluorinated chemicals covered by the regulation is no longer permitted.”

The regulatory agency said it concluded the safety concerns they acknowledged more than five years ago about toxicity of the perfluorinated chemicals and their affect on humans (particularly the reproductive systems) no longer warranted allowing their use. Therefore, “we conclude that there is no longer a reasonable certainty of no harm” for the use of these three compounds in materials that touch food, the agency said.

Reportedly, nine different environmental and food safety groups have been trying to get the FDA to take action. Now that they are not widely used, the FDA finally banned the chemicals used in pizza boxes, popcorn bags and more packaging as dangerous and carcinogenic. So much for the regulators serving as public watchdogs!

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

U.S Food and Drug Administration: Update on Perfluorinated Grease-proofing Agents
Atlanta Journal Constitution: FDA bans 3 chemicals found in pizza boxes, other food packaging
Packaging News: FDA bans cancer-linked chemicals from food packaging in the US
Bloomberg BNA: FDA Revokes Use of Three Perfluorinated Chemicals

Photo courtesy of Marc Wathieu’s Flickr page – Creative Commons license

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