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Research group presses fast food industry for facts on packaging

By Callie Lyons, clyons@mariettatimes.com

Is there a C8-related chemical wrapped around your cheeseburger?

With the PFOA family of manufacturing chemicals under investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a Washington, D.C.-based scientific research group thinks consumers have a right to know the answer.

The Teflon-related chemical C8 has been a topic of interest in the Mid-Ohio Valley since it was first detected in Washington County water supplies in January 2002, likely a result of emissions from the DuPont Washington, W.Va., Works plant across the Ohio River from western Washington County.

DuPont officials say the chemical presents no harm for humans, but it has been found to cause reproductive and developmental problems in laboratory animals. The EPA is trying to gather more information about the chemical through a process of voluntary agreements with industry for testing.

The Environmental Working Group is asking several popular fast food companies to disclose whether the food packaging products they use contain a chemical coating made of fluorinated telomers.

Some consumers such as Debra Cochran of Pageville, in Meigs County, thinks fast food companies should release the information.

"When you are a parent, you think of these things," Cochran said. "If I only ate (in a restaurant) once a year I would still want to know which products may even have a chance of being related (to C8)."

Food packaging and containers which are suspect include french fry boxes, sandwich wrappers, pizza boxes, and a variety of other chemically coated paper products.

The group suspects many types of food packaging commonly used by fast food restaurants are coated with chemicals that perform similarly to those found in the non-stick substance known as Teflon. C8 is used in the Teflon making process. They also believe chemically treated food packaging could be a possible pathway for the human delivery of the chemical, which is found in the bloodstream of more than 90 percent of Americans.

Fluorinated telomers, commonly found in grease- and stain-repellent products, do not contain PFOA (the other name for C8), but studies indicate they can biodegrade into PFOA.

DuPont officials believe the environmental group's request is "largely misleading and inaccurate as it relates to PFOA and fluorinated compounds."

"While we will not respond to the specifics of our concerns with the letter, we are communicating with our customers to assure them that our products are safe for continued use by consumers," said Clif Webb, DuPont spokesman.

"Our safety assurances to customers serving the food industry are based on extensive knowledge of the products we sell and many years of regulatory review and approval by the Federal government," Webb said.

Webb said DuPont grease-resistant products have been studied for more than 35 years and have been found to be safe for food contact use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Webb cited an April 14 statement from the United States EPA that said it "does not believe there is any reason for consumers to stop using any consumer or industrial product" because of questions about PFOA. He said DuPont is supporting the U. S. EPA's efforts to investigate the issue.

The EPA is working toward voluntary agreements with industry representatives that would yield tests and results to answer questions about the toxicity and fate of the chemical. In other words, they are trying to find out which products break down into C8.

The list of consumer products potentially affected by the manufacturing chemical family includes thousands of items. But, industry professionals are hesitant to indicate precisely which products are effected, citing confidential business information. So, in an attempt to gather information they believe will be valuable to consumers, the Environmental Working Group has asked nine fast-food chains to release information about the paper products they use.

"Common chemicals used in food packaging, called fluorinated telomers, can break down into PFOA, and are one of the likely sources of the chemical in the human body," said Ken Cook in the letters to representatives from the fast food industry.

Although the letters were sent to company leaders on July 9, of the fast food corporations contacted, most who responded were unaware of specifics regarding the types of packaging products used in their restaurants.

Spokespeople from McDonald's Corp. in Oak Brook, Ill., and Wendy's International, Inc., of Dublin, said they would have to research the products used by their company and reply later.

Subway Restaurants spokesman Les Winograd said his company has been looking into the issue since receiving the working group's letter.

"We take this issue very seriously," Winograd said. "We are checking with our suppliers to see what they have on their files."

Krispy Kreme spokesperson Brooke Smith reported her company's packaging does not contain any fluorinated telomers.

"We use an all natural clay-based product," Smith said.

Burger King Corp. of Miami, declined to respond, as did Yum! Brands, Inc., the company that operates Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut.

The working group has not yet received any response to its inquiries.

 


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