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While most people have become pretty good at controlling what goes into their bodies, how many of us are concerned with the boxes, bags and packages that our food goes into?

Even BPA, the industrial chemical used to make water bottles that was linked to structural changes in fetal brains, has been largely cleared of suspicion, after an FDA review of hundreds of studies found that the minute amounts of BPA that can make their way into food products are probably safe. The safety of poly or perfluoroalkyl substances (PFA), on the other hand, is still being called into question.

That Stuff Keeping Your Pizza Box Clean Might Cause Birth Defects

PFA chemicals are most commonly used in pizza boxes. They can also be found in some carpet cleaners, because they were designed to repel grease and moisture. The most recent outcry, however, isn’t about the class of PFAs that initially took the pizza delivery industry by storm.

Those early chemicals, long-chain perfluorocarboxylates, were linked to an increased risk for birth defects and cancer long ago. After a few tweaks in the lab, scientists came up with three new perfluoroalkyl ethyls, related to the earlier chemicals but thought to be less harmful. The food packaging industry switched over to the new generation of degreasers around 10 years ago, but now the FDA is saying that even those chemicals are likely to present risks.

Did FDA Ban Pizza Degreasers Too Late?

Along with 9 other health and environmental organizations, the FDA announced that it would be prohibiting the use of three perfluoroalkly ethyl chemicals in the manufacturing of products from pizza boxes and popcorn bags to camping tents.

But for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), one of the groups to petition the FDA about banning these substances in the first place, the agency’s recent action is an empty gesture. In an official statement, reported by Bloomberg BNA, EWG President Ken Cook said:

“Industrial chemicals that pollute people’s blood clearly have no place in food packaging. It’s taken the FDA more than 10 years to figure that out, and it’s banning only three chemicals that aren’t even made any more.”

Turns out studies linking the chemicals to birth defects and cancer have been around for years. In fact, major environmental groups brought the problem to the FDA’s attention years ago. In the absence of FDA action, the groups went directly to industrial manufacturers who, surprisingly, all but completely stopped using the substances in their products. It’s a rare case of industry, not the government, taking a stand for public health.

Some requests for the FDA to ban possibly harmful pharmaceutical drugs have also gone unanswered in recent years. Zofran, a popular morning sickness drug that the agency never approved for use during pregnancy, is currently the subject of many lawsuits alleging a link to congenital heart defects and cleft palate. But women continue to receive the prescription. If Zofran causes birth defects, people deserve to know about it, not ten years from now, but now.

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