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EU proposal to add acrylamide to hazardous chemical list

By Rory Harrington, 02-Sep-2009

Related topics: Quality, Safety, Hygiene, Packaging Technology, Safety & Regulation

The European Union has tabled a proposal to add chemical acrylamide to a list of Substances of Very High Concern.

Acrylamide is one of 15 substances put forward yesterday by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) for inclusion on the hazardous chemicals list after concern was voiced by EU member states and the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Carcinogen and mutagen

Substances of Very High Concern are those seen as presenting hazards that have serious consequences. These include being carcinogenic, or having other harmful properties and remaining in the environment for a long time. Chemicals that gradually build up in animals – bioaccumulative – can also be added to the list which has been compiled as part of the EU’s REACH legislation. One of the aims of regulation is to control the use of such substances via authorisation and encourage industry to substitute these substances for safer ones. The category also includes substances demonstrated to be of equivalent concern, such as endocrine disruptors.

Acrylamide has been listed as a category 2 carcinogen and a category 2 mutagen. The ECHA has asked for comments on the proposals from any interested parties by 15 October, 2009. The body said the comments would be taken into account when deciding whether to add the chemical to the candidate list from which substances are selected for authorisation. Comments should focus on views of the hazardous properties of acrylamide and will be passed on to ECHA’s Member State Committee for discussion.

Canadian and US proposals

The European initiative comes in the wake of Canada’s decision last month to add acrylamide to a list of toxic substances. Health Canada confirmed it had placed the substance onto Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 in order to minimise the public’s exposure to the chemical which Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said “may pose a risk to human health”.

Acrylamide first came onto the health and safety agenda in 2002 when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration reported unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide in carbohydrate-rich foods and published evidence linking the chemical to cancer in laboratory rats.

The majority of acrylamide is used in the production of polymers which are then used to manufacture food packaging. But the primary source of exposure is from food.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also said last week that it was considering issuing guidelines on acrylamide content in food and published a notice in the Federal Register seeking comments from industry on the issue.

Writing in the Federal Register, the FDA’s assistant commissioner for policy David Horowitz said that new evidence is now emerging about its potential health impacts, and this could help form the basis of new guidelines.

“FDA has not issued guidance for manufacturers on reducing acrylamide in food,” he said. “However, it is anticipated that new information will soon be available about the toxicology of acrylamide, which may confirm acrylamide's carcinogenicity in laboratory animals.”