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‘Forever Chemicals’ Rub Off Packaging Onto Food, Report Warns

March 3, 2020, 6:00 AM

Thousands of potentially dangerous chemicals found in the U.S. food supply are there because they rubbed off packaging, storage containers, processing equipment, and tableware, 33 international scientists said in a report released Tuesday.

Even more of these chemicals—known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS—used in packaging and containers could be in the food supply by design, the scientists said. Lax oversight means companies don’t have to report to the FDA all the chemicals they use in food packaging.

The report shows growing consensus in the international scientific community that government agencies like the FDA aren’t doing enough to protect the public from PFAS chemicals and that systemic changes are necessary, the authors said.

The family of thousands of chemicals, once used in Teflon and Scotchgard, may cause liver tissue damage, immune system or thyroid problems, and increased cholesterol levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The additives, sometimes called “Forever Chemicals,” are extremely difficult to break down. This allows them to persist in the environment seemingly in perpetuity.

As of December, the FDA had conducted eight surveys to measure PFAS chemicals in food and found “detectable levels” in a small number of products, including batches of ground turkey and tilapia. The agency said those levels are still “very low and are not likely a health concern.”

The FDA is looking at PFAS chemicals used in paper, cardboard, nonstick pan coatings, and other food contact applications. No additional updates on the testing or further actions could be provided at this time, an agency representative told Bloomberg Law.

The report serves as a “wake-up call” about how little we know about these types of chemicals and the effect they have on our bodies, said Jane Muncke, a scientist and one of the authors of a consensus statement to be published in the science journal BMC.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com

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