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‘Probable link’ between packaging coating and cancer, say scientists

By Joe Whitworth , 11-May-2012
Last updated on 16-May-2012 at 13:05 GMT

A chemical used to make oil and grease-repellent coatings for food packaging by DuPont has a ‘probable link’ to kidney and testicular cancer, according to an independent science panel.

The chemical, C-8P or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which was emitted into the air and water supply by DuPont’s West Virginia site from the 1950’s until a few years ago, said the C8 science panel which published ‘probable link’ findings last month.

The panel of public health scientists, which will publish its findings on other diseases in July, was created after a class action settlement in 2005 by lawyers for the community and DuPont, to evaluate whether there is a probable link between C8 exposure and any human disease.

It said “that it is more probable than not that exposure to C8 in the Mid-Ohio Valley was linked to testicular cancer and kidney cancer,” after analysing data from people who live or have lived in six water districts close to the Du Pont Washington Works plant.

However, Du Pont spokeswoman Janet E. Smith told FoodProductionDaily.com: “A probable link report does not mean that the science panel has concluded that PFOA exposure has caused or will cause any human disease among the class members as a whole, including the Washington Works employees, or any individual.

2015 phase out

PFOA is used to make fluoropolymers and DuPont has committed to phase its manufacture, purchase and use by 2015.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a provisional health advisory limit of 0.4 parts per billion (ppb) of PFOA in drinking water.

It added the chemical had been investigated because it was found at “very low levels in the environment and in the blood of the US population, it remains in people for a very long time and causes developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals.”

If the panel concludes exposure to PFOA is linked to health problems, DuPont could be forced to spend more than US$200m on medical monitoring programs, according to a class action in 2005.

Smith said: “To our knowledge, PFOA has never been used as an ingredient in food packaging materials or coatings.  

“Nonetheless, PFOA has been found to be present as an impurity at trace levels in some materials used to make oil and grease repellent coatings for food packaging.

“These materials may contain trace levels of PFOA as an unintended by-product of the manufacturing process,” she said.

“Oil and grease repellent coatings for food packaging help keep oil and grease contained within the packaging.”  

Nine years of campaigning

Leeann Brown, press secretary for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), told FoodProductionDaily.com it had been campaigning for nine years against PFOA’s use.

Had DuPont done sufficient human safety testing before bringing this product into commerce, they would have found this chemical was unfit for commercial production and use.

“Instead, they chose to side-step basic health and safety testing and now, after a class action lawsuit and pressure from health advocates and scientists nationwide, the company has committed to phasing out the use of PFOA and is responsible for having contaminated ground water from emissions from their Parkersburg, West Virginia, plant,” she said.

“EWG has pushed for a universal phase out of the chemical, as it has, for decades, been proven to be unsafe for humans - even if it could be safe on a mirco level, it’s unnecessary.”

DuPont spokeswoman, Janet E. Smith, added: “DuPont has commercialized new alternatives that are made with short- chain chemistry that cannot break down into PFOA.  

“These new alternatives from DuPont have been approved by regulatory authorities around the world for use in food contact applications.

“DuPont continues to meet its obligations under the West Virginia settlement.”