EWG to FDA: Halt All Use of Deca-Laced Plastic Food Pallets

Dr. Margaret Hamburg
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Ave
Silver Spring, MD 20993-0002

Re: Use of Deca in plastic food pallets

Dear Dr. Hamburg:

Environmental Working Group (EWG) is writing to request an immediate halt to the use by the food industry of plastic pallets made with the neurotoxic flame retardant decabromodiphenyl ether (Deca). Based on an EWG review of publicly available information it appears likely that Deca treated pallets are being used in ways that could contaminate food with Deca without the necessary pre-market approval. Food contaminated with Deca used in plastic pallets without pre-market approval could be deemed adulterated under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, Sec. 402 (21 USC 342).

Deca is a neurotoxin and suspected carcinogen that persists in the environment and accumulates in human tissue. Millions of plastic pallets, each containing 3.4 pounds of Deca (according to industry estimates) are currently in use. These contaminated pallets could introduce millions of pounds of toxic fire retardant into the environment each year.

According to a series of public statements by the shipping industry’s largest plastic pallet user, iGPS, plastic pallets are now being used by General Mills, Borders Melon Company, PepsiCo, Cott, Okray Family Farms, and Martoni Farms, with trials up and running at Dole Foods and Kraft. This widespread use, if true, creates a significant opportunity for food contamination with Deca.

It is standard practice in the food industry to “hydro-cool” produce by submerging food stacked on pallets in water or by dripping water over stacked pallets containing produce. Preliminary studies strongly suggest that Deca leaches from pallets into the cooling water. Because water is recycled numerous times during the hydro-cooling process, considerable levels of Deca residue could be left on hydro-cooled produce.

In an April 29, 2009 letter, Dr. Elizabeth Sánchez Furukawa of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made clear that plastic pallets containing Deca were “not authorized” for use in hydro-cooling, given the potential health risks and the likelihood that the chemical would come in contact with food. Furukawa wrote that “in order for it (Deca) to be used in contact with food under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, it must have pre-market approval.”

Public health authorities in Maine and Washington have restricted Deca, and legislators in 13 states have proposed Deca bans this year. Studies of mice exposed to Deca for a single day reveal notable changes in behavior and activity levels that researchers attribute to the chemical’s neurotoxicity. These effects persist into adulthood and can worsen with age. Research on rats and mice showed increased incidence of four different cancers and non-cancerous tumors. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems these study results to be "suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential."

In addition, Deca can break down into related chemicals – Penta and Octa bromodiphenyl ether – whose production and importation is banned in the United States and Europe.

There are an estimated 4 million Deca-treated plastic pallets in use today, with a significant portion used in the food industry. In September 2008, iGPS, a major plastic pallet shipping company, announced an agreement with Netherlands-based Schoeller Arca Systems to buy 30 million Deca treated plastic pallets over the next five years.

Given the Agency’s decision that Deca-treated plastic food pallets are not authorized for use in hydro-cooling, FDA must take action to ensure that they are not, in fact, used for this purpose.

We look forward to swift and decisive steps on the part of the Agency to stop the use of Deca-treated plastic food pallets in the food industry.


Richard Wiles
Senior Vice President for Policy and Communications
Environmental Working Group

Cc: Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Disqus Comments