The Food and Drug Administration approved perchlorate for use in plastic packaging for food in 2005, but a number of environmental and public-health advocacy groups says it’s not safe, especially for infants and young children.
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In November, seven groups filed a federal lawsuit looking to overturn the FDA’s denial of a petition to ban the use of perchlorate in food packaging and other materials used to store and transport food. The groups contend that the FDA ignored important evidence and relied on flawed reasoning in denying their petition to ban perchlorate in certain food packaging.
Erik Olson, senior director of health and food for The Natural Resources Defense Council, says
perchlorate is an endocrine-disrupting chemical and as its complaint points out, exposure is particularly dangerous for fetuses, infants and young children, as it has been linked to developmental delays, reduced growth and impaired learning capabilities.
“Perchlorate is now widespread in the food supply,” he says. “The FDA approved the use of perchlorate in certain food packaging and food contact materials in 2005. Since this approval, the FDA’s own research demonstrates that levels of perchlorate concentration in a number of foods, including baby food, have spiked to significantly higher levels, well in excess of pre-approval results.”
The FDA, however, notes on its website that researchers have found that estimated dietary exposure of perchlorate for people in the U.S. are below levels that the Environmental Protection Agency have determined to be hazardous to health.
The complaint is challenging the FDA’s refusal to revoke its approval of the use of perchlorate. The environmental and advocacy groups are also urging companies that produce, transport and sell food to refuse to allow perchlorate to be used in their packaging and materials used to store and transport food.
Cox notes that before the FDA’s approval of the use of perchlorate, perchlorate concentrations in baby food dry cereals were relatively low, with 1 of 20 samples (5%) at 11 parts per billion (ppb) and the rest below 3 ppb. In contrast, the FDA’s sampling after the 2005 decision indicated that 12 of 80 samples (15%) had perchlorate concentrations of over 3 ppb, including samples with concentrations of 173, 98, 67, 37, 24, and 16 ppb.
“These extremely high concentrations, well in excess of pre-approval results, suggest that they may result from use of the perchlorate-laden plastic in a limited number of food contact articles resulting in contamination of the baby food products,” she says.
Alexis Andiman, senior associate attorney with Earthjustice, which is also part of the suit, says the FDA should ban perchlorate in materials that contact food.
“It flies in the face of the Agency’s own evidence showing that people are exposed to dangerous levels of perchlorate through food,” she says.
Other plaintiffs in the case include the Center for Food Safety, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Environmental Defense Fund and Environmental Working Group.
“A thyroid hormone-disrupting chemical used in rocket fuel, explosives, firearms and fireworks shouldn’t be coming anywhere near our food, yet the FDA is continuing to defend its use in food packaging,” says Lisette van Vliet, senior policy coordinator for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.
A spokesperson for the FDA says by policy, the FDA does not remark on litigation and had no comment for this story.