You've learned not to cover your food in plastic wrap before you microwave it, but what about the microwavable packaging that comes with a product?
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a synthetic chemical with various uses, most commonly found in nonstick surfaces (think Teflon pans and packaging for microwavable foods like popcorn and pizza), and in breathable, all-weather clothing, such as Gore-Tex.
The EPA has investigated the chemical because it is so persistent in the environment, it appears to remain in the human body for a long time, and it has been shown to cause developmental problems in animal tests.
The feds later determined that PFOA is a likely carcinogen, and requested further testing to establish the risk. In 2006, the agency invited companies to voluntarily commit to phasing out the use of the chemical by 2015
Today in the LA Times, David Lazarus writes about how food packaging in particular can't shake the worries associated with the chemical.
He says studies show that PFOA is present in 98 percent of Americans' blood and 100 percent of newborns. It doesn't break down and thus accumulates in the system over time.
While industry officials argue that the chemical is safe and animal tests are the only evidence of harm, Bill Walker, vice president of the Environmental Working Group, suggests that's enough: "There's never been a chemical found that affects animals but has no effect on humans."
State Senator Ellen Corbett of California has drafted legislation that would ban PFOA in any food packaging sold in California by 2010. Corbett says in the article that she was shocked to learn how frequently families were being exposed to the chemical, and that it's virtually impossible to know which manufacturers have PFOA in their packaging, since there are no labeling requirements.
Dupont, which now has the US market for PFOA to itself and has had to settle a lawsuit with the EPA over not properly reporting health risks associated with the chemical, and 3M, which used to manufacture the chemical, insist the chemical poses no harm to humans.
Hopefully, industry and policy makers can come to an agreement ensuring the safety of consumers.
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