June 30, 2008
Senator Hopes Bill Will Stick
By Susan Abram
A debate about greasy fingers is getting a little sticky up in Sacramento.A state senator is proposing that California become the first state to ban a class of potential carcinogens used in some popcorn bags, pizza boxes and other grease-resistant food packaging.
Scientists have found that when the paper packaging is heated - when popcorn is microwaved, for example - the substances known broadly as perfluorinated chemicals can break down into compounds that are absorbed into food and then leach into the bloodstream.
Senate Bill 1313 by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, would require the removal of PFCs from food packaging and direct manufacturers to use safe alternatives.
"I believe Californians should have the opportunity to know if their health is at risk," she said. "It's a terrible toxic substance because it builds up in the blood and doesn't go away."
DuPont, one of the leading manufacturers that use PFCs, and other industry groups are fighting the measure, saying it would be too expensive to regulate, and the company has been working to voluntarily phase in safer alternatives.
"DuPont alone doesn't oppose this bill. ... There's been a dozen organizations and associations within the industry, whether it's food packaging or manufacturing, that have registered their opposition," said DuPont spokesman Dan Turner.
"The transition to alternatives (is) working but would be undermined by SB 1313," he said. "The EPA has spent millions reviewing applications for alternatives. SB 1313 would likely cost money to replicate."
Two types of PFCs raise the greatest concern in the scientific community. They are known as PFOA (perfluorooctanic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid).
Besides food packaging, PFOA is also commonly used in Teflon and other stain-resistant coatings. PFOS is used in firefighting foam and cleaning products and was a key ingredient in 3M's Scotchgard until it was replaced about six years ago.
Research released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year found that PFOA and PFOS continue to be a concern because both are indestructible in the environment. They have been found in wildlife, including bald eagles, bears, sea mammals and fish.
In two studies, PFOS and PFOA were detected in low levels in 98 percent of Americans, but the CDC said more research is needed to understand how the chemicals affect human health. In a 2005 study, the federal Environmental Protection Agency found that PFOA is known to induce testicular and mammary cancers in animals.
In 2005, DuPont agreed to a $16 million settlement with the EPA for not disclosing possible health effects of PFOA exposure as early as 1981 and as recently as 2004. DuPont now believes it has found a safer alternative to PFOA.
But Corbett, working with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group and former DuPont engineer Glen Evers, said the substitute chemical is no better than the original and that all such chemicals should be banned by 2010.
Her bill passed the Assembly Health Committee last week and will move to the Assembly floor, possibly by August.
In 2006, the EPA began a program that asks eight major manufacturing companies to voluntarily reduce emissions and product content of PFCs and related chemicals by 95percent by 2010. The EPA also is asking these companies to eliminate emissions and product content of these chemicals by 2015.
Turner said DuPont was the first to sign on with the EPA for the voluntary phase-out.
But Evers, a 22-year DuPont employee, said it can find better alternatives - as 3M, the maker of Post-It notes and Scotch tape, did several years ago.
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