Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Found In Grocery Store Foods
“[The FDA investigation is] really just scratching the surface. It opens up many more questions than answers.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed on Monday that PFAS, a class of manmade chemicals used in the manufacturing of non-stick cookware, have been found in multiple foods in mid-Atlantic grocery stores. The FDA’s findings come as states like New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire have filed litigation against DowDupont and other companies they allege are responsible for releasing PFAS despite knowing they “would make groundwater and surface water unfit for drinking.”
What are PFAS?
PFAS are a family of nearly 5,000 synthetic chemicals that have been linked to heightened cancer risk, liver damage, hormone suppression and reproductive problems, and higher risk of miscarriage in pregnant women among other serious health issues. While PFAS have been largely phased out of manufacturing, they are referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are extremely resilient and rarely degrade in the environment.
“It took decades of study before we really understood how potent [PFAS] are,” David Andrews, a senior scientist at the watchdog Environmental Working Group (EWG) told Business Insider. “We have to give up the assumption that all of these chemicals are perfectly safe … These chemicals are concerning and we should eliminate as much [exposure to them] as possible.”
The FDA investigation found PFAS in common grocery store foods like meat, seafood, and chocolate cake, all of which had higher amounts of the chemical than the official warning level set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The investigation also showed a dairy farm near an Air Force base in New Mexico had milk with more than 35 times the PFOS (a form of PFAS) concentration deemed safe for consumption by the EPA. The Pentagon has found PFOS in the groundwater and drinking water of 126 military bases, as PFOS used in firefighting foam stored on bases has led to contamination.
New Hampshire’s recently filed suit against Dupont, Chemours, 3M, and other companies involved in the retail of firefighting foam alleges that toxic water from military bases has leaked into the public’s drinking water. The lawsuit also charges the companies knew of the health risks their chemicals posed but chose to keep their findings secret.
“The actions we are taking today is intended to ensure that those responsible for PFAS contamination to our state’s drinking water supplies and other natural resources are held accountable,” New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon McDonald said, according to the Associated Press. “As alleged in the lawsuits, the defendants possessed unique knowledge of the dangers of PFAS chemicals but continued to make or sell them without warning the public of their health risks.”
How Contaminated is Our Food and Water?
The extent of PFAS’ prevalence in U.S. food and water supplies, as well as its negative health effects, is still not completely understood. However, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found low levels of PFOA in the blood of nearly every person they tested, and the chemicals have been detected in at least 43 states.
“[The FDA investigation is] really just scratching the surface,” Andrews told Business Insider. “It opens up many more questions than answers.”
“Measuring PFAS concentrations in food, estimating dietary exposure and determining the associated health effects is an emerging area of science,” said the FDA, noting that the contamination of the food supply was “not likely to be an immediate human health concern,” with the exception of milk found in the dairy farm.
While the FDA investigation was a positive start, environmentalists want a more rigorous analysis of PFAS contaminants.
“[W]e applaud FDA for getting the investigation started and recommend that, given these results, it reduce PFAS contamination in the food supply,” the Environmental Defense Fund wrote on its blog. “Specifically, the agency should test food more extensively, including for the forms of PFAS the agency currently allows to be used; identify the sources for high levels of PFAS by investigating the supply chain; and ensure that no PFAS is used because of the [Generally Recognized as Safe] loophole.”