Packaging PFOAs found in newborns

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Perfluorooctanoic acid

A new study showing that perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) is showing up in
newborn babies has again raised concerns about the chemical's use
as a protective coating on some food packaging.

A study of about 300 umbilical cord blood samples by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that newborn babies are exposed perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and PFOA while in the womb. The study is one of a number indicating that the chemicals are much more persistent in the environment than previously thought. Both chemicials are being phased out of food packaging in Europe and the US due to concerns about their persistence in the environment. PFOS and PFOA are polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFCs), man-made chemicals used in a variety of products These are are thought to be carcinogenic. The effect on human health is however not fully known, and regulators in the US and the EU have said they would keep an eye on the levels being found in humans. Among other uses, PFOA is also employed in the manufacture of grease-resistant packaging for candy, pizza, microwave popcorn and hundreds of other foods. DuPont, which uses PFOA in the making of products such as Teflon, is facing a number of lawsuits in the US over its use of the chemical. The Hopkins researchers noted that various studies have indicated that exposure to the two compounds could cause tumors and developmental toxicity in laboratory animals at doses much higher than those observed in their study. PFOA was detected in all of the 299 samples of newborns and PFOS in all but two of the samples. The concentrations for both compounds were lower than those typically detected in adults in the US and lower than those known to cause tumors and developmental problems in laboratory animals, they said. "This study confirms that, as we might have suspected, exposure to PFOS and PFOA is fairly universal,"​ the researchers stated. "This is of particular concern because of the potential toxicity, especially developmental toxicity, for these chemicals and the lack of information about health risks at these exposure levels." ​ More study is needed to understand health effects at these lower exposure levels, the researchers said. Last year a UK scientific panel concluded that the steady accumulation of brominated and fluorinated chemicals in foods do not pose a health risk at this time. The independent panel, which advises the Food Standards Agency (FSA), examined the available data for a range of foods for both groups of chemicals. Based on the results of these surveys, there are no implications for people's health, the FSA concluded. The processing industry is under regulatory and consumer pressure to ensure better safety of their food products and the packaging. Health concerns about packaging chemicals, such as PFOAs and phthalates, have raised consumer awareness of about the risks posed by materials The FSA panel said its survey of fluorinated chemicals, including perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS) and the related PFOA, was sparked by an increasing number of reports of the two being found in the environment, in fish and in other foods. PFOS was found at concentrations above the limit of detection in the potatoes, canned vegetables, eggs and sugars and preserves food groups, the advisory panel reported. PFOA was detected only in the potatoes food group. Other fluorinated chemicals were detected only occasionally, although ten different fluorinated compounds were found in the potatoes food group. The panel said it has not yet come to a conclusion on establishing tolerable daily intakes levels for PFOS or PFOA. PFOA was labeled a "likely" human carcinogen by US Environment Protection Agency in January 2006. In April, a class action lawsuit was filed against DuPont due to PFOA contamination from its plant in Deepwater, New Jersey. It is one among others DuPont faces relating to PFOA. DuPont was hit by allegations last year that it hid studies showing the high health risks of the chemical. DuPont has denied the charges. The results of the Hopkins study are published in the 20 April online edition of the Environmental Science & Technology journal.

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