EDF Health

Selected tag(s): PFOS

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

[Update: FDA has published a webpage on PFAS and released the data for the studies discussed in this blog].

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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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

FDA-approved PFAS and drinking water – Q&A on textile mills and environmental permits

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

In 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 (PFAS) 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. We identified 269 paper mills with discharge permits that warrant investigation. Readers of the blog have asked some important questions highlighted below. As with most issues involving PFAS, there are many gaps in what we know. Based on the information provided in response to EDF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to FDA, we hope to fill in some of the gaps and highlight key information needed to better understand the risks of PFASs.  

Question 1: Could textile mills also be a source of PFASs in drinking water?

The answer is “probably.” The FDA-approved PFASs can be used in coating paper that contacts food to repel oil, grease, and water. The same or similar FDA-approved PFASs may be used for non-food uses such as coating textiles to resist stains and repel water.

The processes used to coat paper and textiles differ in some aspects that could affect a mill’s environmental releases. For paper, the PFASs are typically added to the wet wood fibers to be made into paper. In contrast, we understand that PFASs are applied to textiles after the water is removed. Therefore, we would suspect that the amount of PFASs, whether as polymers or impurities, released with the wastewater of a textile mill would be lower compared to that of a typical paper mill. However, there is very little data available to assess the potential environmental release of PFASs from textile mills. Unlike with FDA approvals, there is no environmental review of a chemical’s use in non-food consumer products.[1] So, it would be worthwhile to investigate textile mills for use of PFASs in addition to looking at paper mills.

Using an EPA database[2], we identified 66 textile mills (PDF and EXCEL) in the US, two thirds of which are located in North and South Carolina. Based on wastewater flow, the two largest mills are both operated by Milliken. Its largest facility is in Greenville, South Carolina with a water discharge of 72 million gallons per day (MGD). The second largest is in Bacon, Georgia with a water discharge of 15 MGD. DuPont’s Old Hickory facility, near Nashville, Tennessee, had the third greatest flow at 10 MGD. We do not know whether any of the facilities use and discharge FDA-approved PFASs.

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

Paper mills as a significant source of PFAS contamination, but who’s watching?

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

Update: See June 21, 2018 Q&A blog on PFAS at textile mills and environmental permits

Across the country, communities are grappling with how to manage contamination of drinking water by perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs), a class of chemicals widely used in consumer products, industrial processes, and firefighting foams. Concern over the chemicals grew with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2016 release of a 70 parts per trillion (ppt) drinking water health advisory for PFOA and PFOS, two common and well-studied forms of PFASs.

One challenge to effectively evaluating the potential impacts of PFASs as well as cleaning up priority sites is that there is very little information on where these chemicals are being used. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to FDA, EDF obtained documents previously not made public that show that paper mills using PFASs may be a significant source of contamination to water and potentially to air and compost.

In the nearly 900 documents we received from FDA, we found environmental assessments in four Food Contact Substance Notifications (FCNs) submitted in 2009-2010 by two companies, Daikin America and Chemours.[1] FDA approved each notice, allowing the companies to sell their PFASs to make paper and paperboard repel oil and grease in food packaging such as pizza boxes, sandwich wrappers, and microwave popcorn bags. All four assessments based their estimates on what they called a “typical” paper mill that produces 825 tons of PFAS-coated paper per day and discharges 26 million gallons of water per day.[2]

  • Chemours FCN 885 estimated 95 pounds/day of its PFAS[3] in the wastewater discharge at 43,000 ppt.
  • Chemours FCN 1027 – a notification for the same PFAS – increased the amount in paper from 0.42% to 0.8% resulting in 183 pounds per day in the wastewater discharge at 83,000 ppt.
  • Daikin FCN 933 estimated 180 pounds/day of its PFAS[4] in the wastewater discharge at 83,000 ppt.
  • Daikin FCN 1044 estimated 225 pounds/day of a similar PFAS[5] in the wastewater discharge at 103,000 ppt.

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Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, FDA, Health Policy, PFAS, Regulation / Also tagged , , , , , , | Read 2 Responses