6 NGOs file lawsuit against US FDA over perchlorate in plastic packaging

By Jenny Eagle contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture credit: NRDC
Picture credit: NRDC

Related tags: Food, Fda

Six public health and environmental organizations have filed a lawsuit against the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerning a petition restricting the use of perchlorate in food packaging.

The consortium includes the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Center for Food Safety, Breast Cancer Fund, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the Environmental Working Group.

Dry foods such as beans, rice and flour

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Erik Olson, director of the Health Program at NRDC told BakeryandSnacks the FDA has approved perchlorate as an anti-static agent in plastic packaging for dry foods such as beans, rice and flour.

Perchlorate impairs hormone production critical to brain development and poses a health threat, particularly to fetuses, infants and children​,” he said. 

The petition was submitted to FDA in December 2014. FDA had a legal requirement to respond to petitions within six months, however the agency missed the June 2015 deadline.

The lawsuit regarding the petition was filed against FDA on March 31.

Perchlorate is primarily used in rocket fuel. There is no reason FDA should allow a chemical like this in or on food products​,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director, Center for Food Safety. 

It is irresponsible, illegal, and indefensible for FDA to continue withholding a response to our petition when human health is at stake​.”

Cognitive and developmental skills

According to Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director, Environmental Defense Fund, perchlorate can inhibit the thyroid’s ability to use the iodine in the diet.

The body needs iodine to make the thyroid hormones that are essential to a fetus’ and child’s brain development.

Lower hormone levels could impair a child’s cognitive and developmental skills.

He said, most pregnant women in the US already have inadequate iodine levels, and unnecessary exposure to perchlorate can increase the risk to a child’s healthy development.

In 2005, FDA granted approval for using perchlorate as an anti-static agent in dry goods plastic packaging. The chemical compound was already approved as an additive in sealing gaskets for food containers.

Rocket fuel and fireworks

Perchlorate also has other non-FDA regulated uses ranging from rocket fuel and fireworks to road flares and airbags and it is a common contaminant of hypochlorite bleach.

When hypochlorite, a common household and industrial disinfectant used in food processing and to peel and wash produce, is not managed carefully, it quickly degrades to perchlorate.

Three years after FDA approved perchlorate as an anti-static agent in dry goods packaging, a separate FDA study of food revealed that 74% of the food types tested had measurable amounts of perchlorate​,” he added.

It may be surprising to note the food in that study was collected around the same time as the agency was making its decision to expand the use of perchlorate​.”

The same approach of petitioning to FDA and requesting a ban of chemicals of concern has been successful in the past: In January 2016 FDA withdrew food contact approval for three long-chain perfluorinated compounds, according to the Food Packaging Forum​.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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