Credibility Gap: Toxic Chemicals in Food Packaging

How Green is DuPont's Alternative?

June 9, 2008

Credibility Gap: Toxic Chemicals in Food Packaging: Voluntary Phaseout Not Working

In May 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was “examining its options” regarding the toxic and persistent chemical PFOA. In reality a toothless, 30-year-old federal law left EPA with few options to examine. The Agency could not even ban asbestos, a known human carcinogen, under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. For PFOA, EPA settled on a voluntary phase-out agreement in lieu of an enforceable ban. In January 2006 DuPont, 3M and six other chemical companies entered into the EPA-brokered Voluntary Stewardship Program, in which companies committed to phasing out by 2015 the use of the Teflon chemical PFOA and other closely related chemicals (“higher homologues”) (US EPA 2006a). These companies have pointed to this agreement to argue against actions proposed since that would further reduce the public’s exposures to PFCs. But unlike an enforceable ban, which would have been the ideal outcome for a chemical as hazardous and persistent as PFOA, the voluntary phase-out agreement leaves open the possibility that consumers will continue to be exposed to PFOA for decades to come. Because of significant gaps in the agreement, it failed to obviate the need for additional actions to reduce the public’s exposures to PFOA and other perfluorochemicals. First and foremost is the simple fact that the stewardship program is voluntary. Under the EPA agreement, companies only "commit to working toward the elimination" of the targeted perfluorochemicals by 2015 with no EPA enforcement mechanism in place and no penalties if deadlines are not met. This means that consumers and EPA essentially have to trust chemical companies to do the right thing. When one considers the track record of the industry for complying with legally enforceable statutes with steep penalties – take DuPont and their record-setting fine, for failing to report pollution data to EPA as required by federal law (US EPA 2005), for example – this is not a particularly encouraging option. That the stewardship program is voluntary also means that companies can choose whether they want to opt in at all – and not a single company from China is participating. Biomonitoring data from China where production of PFOS and other PFCs continues indicate that the levels of these chemicals are increasing in the bodies of Chinese citizens (Jin 2007; Olsen 2008). These disconcerting findings are evidence that a US-only voluntary program will likely not be sufficient to protect American consumers from PFC contamination of everyday products given the massive quantity of goods the US imports from China. This is especially a concern when it comes to food packaging, for China is the third largest producer of packaging in the world (Packaging Expo 2008), and food packaging is considered to be an important source of exposure to PFCs (Begley 2005; Tittlemier 2007). The voluntary nature of the program also means that companies face no penalties for failing to comply with the agreement, and that the EPA has no authority to require companies to submit to independent verification of the data and claims they are providing to EPA to document their efforts. EWG’s analysis of the first year of progress reports from companies participating in the stewardship program revealed mixed results. A number of companies have reduced their use of PFOA only minimally or not at all. The submitted data are neither clear nor transparent, and thus fail to provide the information needed to assess companies’ progress. For example, many companies list a 10-fold range for emissions, making it impossible to determine if there has been any progress. Some companies report PFOA and higher homologues separately, obscuring the true state of the industry.


Table I. Summary data on emissions from fluoropolymer (FP) and fluorotelomer manufacturing facilities and PFOA product content1


  Emissions from FP and telomer manufacturing facilities, kg PFOA (and higher homologues) product content
Dispersions (ppm wet weight) Other fluoropolymers (ppm dry-weight)
Company and chemical Baseline2 2006 Claimed % reduction Baseline 2006 Claimed % reduction Baseline 2006 Claimed % reduction
Arkema, PFOA+HH3 >10,000-
22% >500-
0% >70 -150 >70 - 150 30%
Asahi PFOA+HH 5,230 4,922 6% 1,364 500-1,570 12% CBI 0.12 NA
Ciba4 Baseline PFOA total for emissions and product content reported at 30 kg; 2006 reported as 0.05 kg
Daikin PFOA CBI CBI 92-94% 420 280 34% 14 Plastics: 2 Elastomers: 300 0%
DuPont PFOA 49,400 1,100 98% 970 547 44% 340 69 80%
3M/ Dyneon PFOA 1,700 0 100% 4,300 0 100% not reported not reported not reported
Solvay Solexis PFOA, 1000-
higher homologues, 1000-10,000
PFOA+HH >1000-10,000 28% 1,500-1,700 PFOA + HH 600-700 PFOA +HH 59% 140-170 PFOA + HH 170-200 PFOA + HH Increased by 17%

1. Data from the US EPA website Eight companies signed up to participate in the stewardship program; One signer, Clariant declared both baseline and follow up data as “Not applicable”. 2. Baseline values were collected around 2000 (Arkema 1999; Asahi Glass Co 2000; Ciba 2002; Daikin 2000; Dupont 2000; 3M/Dyneon 1999; Solvay Solexis 2000). 3. Higher homologues (HH) of PFOA. 4. Ciba reported emissions and product content in the same category, making it impossible to determine the extent of progress in decreasing of PFOA product content or PFOA emissions.
For example, Daikin claims its PFOA emissions have been reduced by 92-93% but then lists their actual emission numbers as confidential business information (CBI), calling into question the reliability of their claims. Similarly, Arkema reports its emissions as a 10-fold range, making it impossible to estimate change between baseline and reporting years. Arkema also reported unchanged PFOA content in dry-weight fluoropolymers, which raises questions about its claim of 30% product content reduction. Furthermore, for at least four different companies, no significant progress has been observed so far. Asahi Glass Co. only reduced its emissions by 6%, and the company’s product content for wet fluoropolymer dispersions was only reduced by 12%. Arkema did not report any reduction in PFOA content in wet dispersions, while Daikin reported no reduction in PFOA content in dry-weight fluoropolymers. Meanwhile, Solvay Solexis reported a 17% increase in PFOA content in dry-weight fluoropolymers. The Year 1 summary does, of course, report some positive steps. Dupont, for example, reported a 98% reduction of emissions and 80% PFOA reduction in dry-weight fluoropolymers. Reductions in PFOA content in wet dispersions were reported by Daikin, Dupont, and Solvay Solexis. But when talking about toxic chemicals that will never break down in the environment, such piecemeal positive steps are not enough to call a program successful. Especially when it is hampered by unreliable data and no possibility of enforcement.