Tom Neltner, J.D., is Chemicals Policy Director.
Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed to consider withdrawing its approvals of 30 food additives known as ortho-phthalates from use in food packaging and food handling equipment. The chemicals are in a class of chemically- and pharmacologically-related substances used as plasticizers, binders, coating agents, defoamers, gasket closures, and slimicide agents to process and package food. The agency allows them to be used in cellophane, paper, paperboard, and plastics that come in contact with food. All of the chemicals were approved by the agency before 1985. Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. 321(s), chemicals that are reasonably expected to get into food from their intentional use in materials contacting food are considered "food additives."
FDA acted in response to a food additive petition submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Clean Water Action, Consumer Federation of America, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, Improving Kids’ Environment, and Learning Disabilities Association of America – groups all concerned by the adverse health effects of ortho-phthalates at the levels typically seen in food.
Academic studies have linked some of these chemicals to various reproductive, developmental and endocrine health problems. In fact, every ortho-phthalate that has been studied for these types of health effects has been found to pose a risk. From lower IQ in young children to malformation of the male genital tract, the evidence of health effects in humans continues to grow. But, with more than half of the 30 chemicals lacking any published safety data, the full extent of the threat remains unclear.