Link between food packaging and cancer

A chemical ingredient that is used to designate oil and grease-repellent layers for food packaging could possibly be linked to kidney and testicular cancer.

The chemical, known as C-8P or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is normally emitted into the air and water supply by DuPont’s West Virginia site from the 1950s until recently when findings were published regarding a ‘probable link’.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a provisional health advisory limit of 0.4 parts per billion (ppb) of PFOA in drinking water.

After having six water districts within close range to the DuPont’s working plant, the findings said “that it is more probable than not that exposure to C8 in the Mid-Ohio Valley was linked to testicular cancer and kidney cancer”.

However, Janet E. Smith, a Du Pont spokeswoman, said: “A probable link report does not mean that the science panel has concluded that PFOA exposure has caused or will cause any human disease among the class members as a whole, including the Washington Works employees, or any individual”.

The research also added that the chemical had been investigated because it was found at “very low levels in the environment and in the blood of the US population, it remains in people for a very long time and causes developmental ad other adverse effects in laboratory animals”.

If it is concluded that the exposure of PFOA is linked to health problems, DuPont could potentially be spending more than US$200m on medical monitoring programmes.

Smith said: “To our knowledge, PFOA has never been used as an ingredient in food packaging materials or coatings. Nonetheless, PFOA has been found to be present as an impurity at trace levels in some materials used to make oil and grease repellent coatings for food packaging.

“These materials may contain trace levels of PFOA as an unintended by-product of the manufacturing process. Oil and grease repellent coatings for food packaging help keep oil and grease contained within the packaging”.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been campaigning for nine years against the use of PFOA.

Leann Brown, the press secretary for EWG, said: “Had DuPont done sufficient human safety testing before bringing this product into commerce, they would have found this chemical was unfit for commercial production and use”.

Brown added: “Instead, they chose to side-step basic health and safety testing and now, after a class action lawsuit and pressure from health advocates and scientists nationwide, the company has committed to phasing out the use of PFOA and is responsible for having contaminated ground water from emissions from their Parkersburg, West Virginia, plant.

“EWG has pushed for a universal phase out of the chemical, as it has, for decades, been proven to be unsafe for humans – even if it could be safe on a mirco level, it’s unncecessary”.

Smith continued: “DuPont has commercialised new alternatives that are made with short-chain chemistry that cannot break down into PFOA.

“These new alternatives from DuPont have been approved by regulatory authorities around the world for use in food contact applications. DuPont continues to meet its obligations under the West Virginia settlement”.


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