EDF Health

FDA accepting public comments on the safety of ortho-phthalates

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director.

Today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it was accepting public comment on a food additive petition asking the agency to reconsider the safety of 30 toxic chemicals known as ortho-phthalates, which are used as additives in food packaging and handling materials.

The announcement, to be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register, comes shortly after a new study by Dr. Ami Zota published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that individuals who consume large amounts of fast food have higher levels of exposure to two of the most commonly-used phthalates—diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthtlate (DiNP). Because the study was about fast food, final food packaging is less likely to be a major source than food handling equipment, including gloves. Read More »

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FDA agrees to reconsider safety of ortho-phthalates

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.

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Missing the forest for the trees? Are we addressing the biggest risks from exposure to phthalates?

Lindsay McCormick is a Research AnalystRichard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist

A recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives is the first to demonstrate a link between childhood asthma and prenatal exposure to certain phthalates.  Phthalates are a group of chemical plasticizers used in hundreds of everyday products, including home construction materials, toys, food packaging, medical devices, and synthetic fragrances found in personal care products, cleaning products, cosmetics, and air fresheners.  For the most part, it is impossible for the average consumer to know what products are made with phthalates; however, if you see the word “fragrance” listed on your shampoo or sun screen, it may well contain a phthalate.  

Several studies have suggested that phthalate exposure may have an adverse impact on children’s respiratory health (for example, see here, here, and here).   However, none of these studies has considered the potential role of prenatal exposure – exposures to the fetus in the womb – to phthalates.

The prenatal period is a critical developmental window for lung and respiratory health.  Thus, researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) hypothesized that prenatal phthalate exposure would be associated with later development of asthma in childhood.  To investigate this hypothesis, the researchers measured phthalate metabolite levels in the urine of 300 women in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, and then followed the children of these women to assess the extent to which they developed asthma between the ages of 5 and 11.  Read More »

Posted in Emerging Science, Health Policy, Health Science, Regulation / Tagged , , | Read 2 Responses

FDA and industry continue to ignore cumulative effects of chemicals in the diet

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, consultant

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made no apparent progress to comply with the legal requirement that it consider the cumulative effect of chemicals in the diet that have similar health impacts when evaluating the safety of an additive. A year ago, on September 23, 2020, EDF and 11 other organizations[1] filed a formal petition with the agency documenting the problem and asking it begin complying with the law.

We reviewed FDA and industry actions since the petition was filed and found that both continued to ignore the requirement 100% of the time in:

  • Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) notices in which companies were required to consider the cumulative effect as part of their determination that a substance’s use was safe;
  • FDA’s responses to those GRAS notices where it found “no questions” with the flawed safety determinations; and
  • FDA’s revised guidance to industry on use of recycled plastics in food packaging.

The agency’s only response to our petition was a March 2021 letter saying it “has not reached a decision due to competing priorities” and that the “petition is currently under active evaluation by [its] staff.”

From what we can see, FDA and industry continue to make safety determinations about chemical additives without regard to their overall effect on individuals’ health and their legal obligations. Is it any surprise that consumers continue to rate chemicals in food their #1 food safety concern? Read More »

Posted in FDA, Food, GRAS, Health Policy, PFAS / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

FDA takes an important step by phasing out paper greaseproofing agents containing a specific PFAS

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the phase-out of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) used to greaseproof paper and paperboard food packaging made from a specific type of short-chain PFAS known as 6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol (6:2 FTOH).  The action, narrow as it is, is welcome news for efforts to protect public health and the environment from the risks posed by short chain PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” because they do not degrade.

FDA secured voluntary agreements with three companies, Archroma, Asahi Glass, and Daikin, to phase-out products based on 6:2 FTOH. A fourth company, Chemours, asked FDA to suspend the agency’s approvals on its products containing the PFAS one year ago. The action affects 15 food contact substance notifications (FCN) approved by the agency between 2006 and 2016. It does not address 13 FCNs for similar greaseproofing uses made from PFAS other than 6:2 FTOH. And, under the agreement, consumers may still find 6:2 FTOH-laden, carry-out containers until June 2025.

The process FDA took, and the time it took to get there, reveals the significant difficulties the agency has in reversing past actions in the face of mounting evidence of a chemical’s risk:

  • FDA must seek out information because companies have no obligation to affirmatively notify the agency of new studies showing potential problems;
  • When FDA finds the information and identifies potential safety concerns, it appears to act as if it has the burden of proving the use is no longer safe; and
  • FDA continued approving uses of 6:2 FTOH even after it identified problematic data gaps.

These difficulties reinforce the need for actions being taken by states such as Washington, Maine, New York, and California, by Congress, and by retailers to reduce uses of PFAS in their products. When it comes to food packaging, PFAS are dinosaurs and their time is running out.

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A gap remains in the circular economy conversation: Toxic chemicals in packaging

Boma Brown-West, Senior Manager, Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director, and Michelle Harvey, Consultant.

This is the first blog in a series evaluating the challenges associated with single-use food packaging waste.

This week Walmart joined a growing number of companies that are trying to advance the circular economy for packaging. Like previous commitments from NestleCoca-Cola and McDonald’s, Walmart is stepping up its efforts to use more recyclable packaging, incorporate more recycled content, and accelerate development of collection and recycling infrastructures. EDF has a long history fighting for greater and smarter plastics recycling, so we are pleased to see more companies working to eliminate plastic packaging waste from our environment. However, something is often missing from their statements: commitments for safer packaging free of toxic chemicals.

What defines safer packaging?

There are many facets to sustainable packaging: recyclability, reusability, lower material and energy inputs, and the avoidance of toxic chemicals.  A significant amount of virgin plastic used in packaging currently contains toxic chemical additives such as ortho-phthalates or contaminants such as heavy metals. These chemicals have been linked to diseases and health disorders, such as reproductive problems and impaired brain development. When tainted plastic packaging is reused or recycled, these toxic chemicals persist and may accumulate to worrisome levels until the packaging is retired, posing long-term threats to our health.

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