July 18, 2005

C8 found in food packaging: but where?
Athens Messenger
By Callie Lyons

Preliminary data from the Food and Drug Administration suggests that small amounts of C8 can migrate into food from some popular types of paper food packaging. Despite DuPont’s conclusion that the substance poses no threat to humans, scientists and environmentalists advocate reducing or eliminating the pathways of exposure.

But even scientists have a hard time determining which consumer products may be linked to C8, also known as PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid.

PFOA in the Paper Industry

Questions about DuPont’s handling of C8 prompted the Steelworkers Union to launch their own internal review to try and find out how prevalent a PFOA-related substance is and how it is used in the paper industry.

“We had been doing our own independent research on the topic. We looked at DuPont and the Teflon controversy caused major questions because of this company’s failure to disclose potential impacts for over two decades,” said Shawn Gilchrist, Outreach Liaison in the Special Projects Department of the Steelworkers Union in Nashville, Tennessee. “Our scientific experts pointed toward the application used (to coat paper).”

Gilchrist said the chemical is often mixed with other substances and applied in the coating process, but the union is still analyzing the prevalence of the paper application.

The path between the application process and the delivery to consumers is a murky one. Gilchrist said some workers were surprised to discover that they use the substance. In many instances, even corporate restaurant chain representatives do not know whether or not their food products are wrapped in paper coated with fluorochemical applications. However, the use of these coated paper applications is so prevalent that international industry experts speculate that a ban or restriction on these grease-resistant chemicals would have considerable repercussions for the packaging industry.

In Asia Paper Markets, a packaging industry trade publication, Hannu Karhuketo, development manager at Walki Wisa, a Finland packaging manufacturer, said the EPA’s decision on PFOA “will have large repercussions for the entire sector, which will now have to look for substitute materials.”

Dupont has issued a statement on their website reinforcing its stand on the safety of their fluorochemical coating products.

“These grease-resistance products are suitable for numerous applications, including food packaging for both humans and pets as well as microwave popcorn and molded products such as paper plates and cups,” the statement reads.

The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing the toxicity of PFOA in an unprecedented investigation employing the resources of multiple government agencies to determine the potential risks associated with PFOA and discover the pathways of exposure that have made it so prevalent it can be detected in the bloodstream of more than 90 percent of Americans.

The EPA said PFOA is used to make substances with special properties that have thousands of important manufacturing and industrial applications. Fluoropolymers alone constitute a $2.5 billion industry annually.

Following the lead of the EPA, the FDA has identified and tested such popular packaging materials as microwave popcorn bags, French fry boxes, donut wrappers, pizza boxes, and sandwich wrappers as potential sources of PFOA migration.

Researchers were first alerted to the widespread use of fluorochemical applications in popular food packaging upon discovering a 3M manual for taking field samples that instructs technicians to prevent contamination of the samples by avoiding use of several consumer products containing perfluorinated chemicals including Post-It notes, microwave popcorn, fast food, chicken sandwiches, French fries, pizza, bakery items, candy, cookies and candy bars.

Some believe this is evidence that 3M knew that PFOA-related chemicals were used in packaging for an assortment of consumer products and that the compounds were readily absorbed into the human bloodstream. In May of 2000, after internally reviewing the PFOA family of chemicals for decades, amidst an EPA investigation 3M voluntarily discontinued manufacture of all products based on perfluorooctanyl chemistry, including C8, which made Dupont the only domestic producer of the substance.

PFOA in Popular Food Packaging

In a survey of six fast food restaurant chains, few corporate representatives had information about the kinds of packaging they use to deliver their products to consumers.

Of the nation’s three leading burger chains, Wendy’s and Burger King don’t use paper packaging products coated with fluorochemical applications, but McDonald’s most likely does.

Two years ago when asked if McDonald’s used fluorochemical applications, corporate spokesperson Julie Pottebaum confirmed widespread industry use of telomer coated paper-packaging products.

“As is the case throughout the food service industry, our suppliers use telomers in limited coating applications for some of our packaging," Pottebaum said.

Although contacted recently for an update, Pottebaum has so far been unable to confirm or deny whether the McDonald’s corporation is still using paper packaging coated with telomer applications.

Burger King phased out use of coated fluorochemical paper products in 2002.

“We discontinued use in 2002 of products coated with fluorinated telomers,” said Laina Kawass, company spokesperson.

Burger King now uses only food grade grease-resistant paper that must be certified to not have any fluoropolymer or telomer applications, Kawass said.

A company spokesperson from Wendy’s International, Inc. said the chain has not ever used paper products coated with fluorochemicals.

“We don’t use paper products coated with fluorotelomers,” said Kitty Munger, corporate spokesperson for Wendy’s. “Never have to my knowledge.”

White Castle’s corporate media relations office failed to respond to multiple requests for information prior to publication.

While donut wrappers are named as a possible candidate for fluorochemical coating applications, Krispy Kreme denied the use of telomers, but Dunkin’ Donuts couldn’t say for sure.

Krispy Kreme spokesperson Brooke Smith said that the company uses an all-natural clay-based product for their paper packaging.

Andrew Mastrangelo, Manager of Global Communications for Dunkin Brands, Inc., could not immediately answer questions about the companies packaging, but said he would investigate and report back. Dunkin Brands, Inc. owns Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robbins, and Togos.

While the prevalence of affected consumer products is not fully understood, the highest level of PFOA migration detected by the FDA in Timothy Begley’s research appeared to be from microwave popcorn bags. Although the all levels of PFOA food migration detected were very low and well within known safety guidelines, EPA and FDA researchers remain concerned about its prevalence because the substance does not biodegrade over time, but persists in the environment.

Meanwhile, DuPont officials deny that paper-coating applications pose any threat to humans.

“As a company with a heritage of product safety, DuPont maintains an open dialog with regulators, customers and employees about the continued safety of Zonyl and Foraperle fluorochemical products. Nearly four decades of research and testing indicate that the telomerization process used to manufacture our fluoroprotectants does not produce PFOS chemicals and the products from this process do not contain PFOS. This makes them both safe and effective when used as intended.”

For more information: http://www.paperprotect.dupont.com