Fast Food Companies Asked to Disclose Use of Toxic Chemicals in Food Packaging

WASHINGTON — In the growing controversy over the toxicity and pervasiveness of a group of chemicals, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) today asked the CEOs of nine major fast food corporations to disclose the use of the chemicals in their packaging. The chemicals — fluorinated telomers — can break down into perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used to make Teflon. PFOA is toxic at low levels and is found in more than 90% of Americans.

The use of the Teflon-related chemical could be widespread in the fast food industry, and in fact, initial concerns about the industry were raised by a document written by a 3M contractor. The document advised a supermarket food sampling team to wash their hands thoroughly after eating fast food, because of concerns that the chemicals in food packaging would contaminate the samples:

“Many food and snack products — microwave popcorn, fast-food (sandwiches, chicken, French fries), pizza, bakery items, beverages, candy, cookies — are packaged in wrappers treated with the chemicals of interest. Therefore, hands will be thoroughly washed after handling fast food, carryout food, or snacks.”

Knowing if fast food packaging contains these chemicals will be critical information to both consumers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in making public health decisions.

The EPA has undertaken an effort to answer the question of how the Teflon-related chemical has contaminated the blood of almost every American. This review is the largest in the Agency’s history, and the stakes are high. EWG is concerned about the efforts by DuPont, 3M and other manufacturers to sharply limit the number of consumer products included in the review of potential routes of exposure and to keep the names of those products and the findings of the review secret.

The chemical industry is planning more tests to better define sources of human exposure under an enforceable agreement with EPA, but unfortunately, only two food-packaging products are slated for testing. Details about the products are being claimed as confidential by the industry, and publicly available information is limited.

“We are writing you to request information that the chemical industry is unable or unwilling to provide, in the hope that your answers will give your customers knowledge of, and confidence in, the safety of your products,” EWG president Ken Cook wrote in his letters to the CEOs of Burger King, KFC, Krispy Kreme, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Starbucks, Subway and Wendy’s.

“If you are using fluorinated chemicals in food packaging, as many companies are, we look forward to hearing your plans for eliminating their use in the future as a proactive way to protect the health of your customers and reduce contamination of the biosphere with these toxic, indestructible pollutants.”

Download PDFs of EWG letters to fast food companies:

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