EDF Health

Selected tag(s): PFAS

FDA finds surprisingly high levels of PFAS in certain foods – including chocolate cake

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

As reported by the Associated Press today, at a conference last week in Helsinki, Finland, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) presented the results of three studies it conducted of 16 per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in various foods. A friend who attended the conference sent us photos of the poster. The results for samples of meat and chocolate cake purchased by the agency in October 2017 as part of its ongoing Total Diet Study (TDS) jumped out at us as surprisingly high and worth further investigation:

  • 17,640 parts per trillion (ppt) of perfluoro-n-pentanoic acid (PFPeA) in chocolate cake with icing. These levels suggest that the cake was contaminated from the intentional use of the chemical to greaseproof paper that contacted the cake rather than from an environmental source. We cannot find any evidence that FDA ever reviewed the safety of PFPeA as a food contact substance – meaning the manufacturer may have secretly designated it as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). We also found little evidence – good or bad – of the health risks posed by this PFAS. We have reached out to FDA to learn more, but as of this blog posting the agency has not yet responded. This chemical was also found in chocolate milk at 154 ppt.
  • Nearly half (10 of 21) meat samples had quantifiable levels of perfluoroctanesulfonate (PFOS) with concentrations ranging from 134 ppt in a frankfurter to 865 ppt in tilapia. Unlike the chemical in chocolate cake, PFOS has been extensively studied because of widespread environmental contamination, especially around the facilities in Alabama and Minnesota where it was previously produced. It is associated with increased cholesterol, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, and decreased birth weight. While comparisons are complicated, the PFOS levels found in some of these meats were far greater than the 70 ppt health advisory set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for drinking water in May 2016. Two years later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proposed limits that are almost 7 times more protective than EPA’s, partly because more recent studies indicate the chemical may undermine the effectiveness of vaccines. Production of PFOS in the United States reportedly ended in 2002, though it is still made overseas and may have been imported paper. In 2016, FDA removed its approval to greaseproof paper with PFOS.

FDA’s poster also showed testing results from food produced around two PFAS contaminated areas. FDA found most of the 16 PFAS at varying levels measured in produce sold in farmer’s markets downstream of a PFAS production facility in the Eastern U.S. – presumably Chemours’ plant in North Carolina. The highest produce sample had 1,200 ppt and was purchased within 10 miles downstream of the production plant and short-chain PFAS were prevalent.

The other contaminated area was a dairy farm near an air force base in New Mexico. FDA found many of the 16 PFAS in the water and silage used to feed the cows but PFOS was the most prevalent among a few PFAS measured in the milk with levels higher than 5000 ppt. The agency also detected several PFAS in cheese produced by the farm in lower amounts than the milk. Many of the PFAS are likely from aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) used to fight fire and conduct firefighting training at the Air Force base.

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Posted in FDA, Food, GRAS, PFAS, Public Health / Also tagged , , | Read 2 Responses

The elephant in the room: potential biopersistence of short-chain PFAS

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

In January 2018, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists published a peer-reviewed journal article stating a commonly used raw material to make greaseproof paper is likely to persist in the human body. FDA scientists’ sophisticated analysis and remarkable conclusion raises questions about the broad assumption that short-chain perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), as a class, did not accumulate.

Strangely, two recent reviews funded by the FluoroCouncil, ignored FDA scientists’ study even though it was published ten months before the industry group submitted their analysis for peer-review. The peer reviewers appear to have missed the omission as well. As a result, the industry evaluations continue to perpetuate the flawed assumptions, concluding that perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) and related short-chain PFAS “present negligible human health risk” and that this substance alone is a suitable marker for the “safety of fluorotelomer replacement chemistry.”

In this blog, we discuss the differences between the studies and the implications of the discordance between FDA’s and industry’s conclusions for the safety assessment of short-chain PFAS.

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Posted in Drinking Water, FDA, Health Policy, Health Science, PFAS, Public Health, Regulation / Also tagged , | Comments are closed

The Trump EPA’s actions on formaldehyde can be summed up in one word: Corrupt

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Today, Heidi Vogt at the Wall Street Journal reported on the systematic efforts by the Trump Administration to derail chemical assessments under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS).   

Decisions are being made as I write by conflicted EPA political appointees, not only to derail the beleaguered IRIS assessment for the carcinogen formaldehyde, but to transfer any further assessment of the chemical to be under the control of those same political appointees.

The WSJ article cites an upcoming report by Congress’ Government Accountability Office (GAO) that notes “EPA leadership in October directed the heads of the agency’s various programs to limit the number of chemicals they wanted IRIS to study or continue researching.  Nine of 16 assessments were then dropped, including one that looked at whether exposure to formaldehyde increases the risk of leukemia that ‘has been drafted and is ready to be released for public comment.’ ”  The chemical industry has long sought to undermine the findings of numerous governmental authorities that have identified the dangers posed by formaldehyde, one of the industry’s biggest cash cows.

IRIS itself has also long been a target of the chemical and allied industries, including those well represented by EPA political appointees who are now able to drive the assault on IRIS from inside the agency.

This post will provide more of the backstory to the WSJ’s excellent reporting.  It reveals additional decisions being made as I write by conflicted political appointees, not only to derail the beleaguered IRIS assessment for formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, but to transfer any further assessment of the chemical to be under the control of those same political appointees.  What is happening here we believe is ripe for further investigation.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence, TSCA Reform / Also tagged , | Comments are closed

FDA-approved PFAS: A serious breakdown in assessing food additive safety

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

This blog is the fourth in a series describing information we discovered in reviewing thousands of pages from the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of the agency’s approval of 31 Food Contact Substance Notifications (FCNs) from 2002 to 2016 submitted by six companies for 19 distinct chemical mixtures of per- and poly-fluorinated substances (PFAS).

In this blog, we identify one company’s serious breach of its obligation to provide FDA with all relevant toxicology data. While hindsight is 20/20, we have reason to believe that if FDA had had all relevant information, it would have demanded more studies potentially revealing risks that are only now coming to light with related chemicals. Though we have not completed a similar review for the other companies, we think this inadequate approach to chemical safety is not unique to a single company, and FDA should reassess all its reviews given what is now known about PFAS chemicals.

Safety assessment requirements for food additives – including food contact substances

When a company seeks FDA’s approval of food additives (including food contact substances), it is required to provide the agency with all relevant chemistry, toxicology and environmental data so it can conduct a safety assessment. While the agency typically conducts a literature search of its own and of public databases, the company that is claiming the chemical’s use is safe is obligated to include any data that is inconsistent with the company’s conclusion.

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Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, FDA, Food, Health Policy, PFAS, Public Health, Regulation / Also tagged , , , | Read 1 Response

American Academy of Pediatrics calls for “urgently needed reforms” to fix broken food additive regulatory system

Tom Neltner, J.D. is Chemicals Policy Director

Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a “Food Additives and Child Health” policy statement calling for “urgently needed reforms to the current regulatory process at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for food additives.” The policy applies to chemicals deliberately added to food or to food packaging or food processing equipment that get into food. These substances are used to flavor, color, preserve, package, process and store our food, but many never appear among the list of ingredients. AAP’s statement calls specifically for the following:

  • “Greatly strengthening or replacing the GRAS [Generally Recognized as Safe] determination process;
  • Updating the scientific foundation of the FDA’s safety assessment program;
  • Retesting all previously approved chemicals; and
  • Labeling direct additives with limited or no toxicity data.”

EDF applauds AAP’s policy statement and its decision to add its influential voice to the rising call for reform of the process by which FDA and food manufacturers decide additives are safe. AAP, a professional society representing 67,000 pediatricians, develops policy statements regarding federal, state, and community policies that affect children through an extensive, deliberative process that draws on tremendous scientific expertise. As with past policies, such as those concerning lead toxicity and fruit juice consumption, this statement on chemicals in food presents a well-reasoned assessment of the problem and clear recommendations for reform.

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Posted in FDA, Food, GRAS, Health Policy, Health Science, perchlorate, PFAS, Public Health / Also tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

FDA-approved PFAS and drinking water – Q & A on analytical measurements

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

On May 2018, we released a blog highlighting paper mills as a potentially significant source of drinking water contamination from 14 Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved poly- and per-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) used to greaseproof paper. We showed that wastewater discharge could result in PFAS concentrations in rivers in excess of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s 70 parts per trillion (ppt) health advisory level for drinking water contamination for PFOA and PFOS, the most studied of the PFASs. Readers of the blog have asked some important questions highlighted below. We provide our best answers based on EDF’s FOIA request to FDA. See also our Q & A blog on textile mills and environmental permitting

Question 1: Would EPA’s analytical method for PFASs actually measure any of the FDA-approved PFASs in rivers and drinking water?

The answer is “likely no.” To understand why, we first need to explain which chemicals FDA approved and compare those chemicals to the list of 18 specific perfluorinated alkyl acids measured by Method 537, the EPA-approved analytical method used to report on PFASs in drinking water. Acids are only one of many functional groups that can be attached to the fully fluorinated carbons in the alkyl chain.

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Posted in Drinking Water, FDA, Health Policy, Health Science, PFAS, Public Health / Also tagged , , | Comments are closed