Sen. Schumer calling for FDA investigation into fast food packaging which may contain toxic chemicals
Monday, July 31, 2017 - 2:54 pm

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to investigate wrappers and containers used at fast food restaurants. He say studies show a chemical used in fast food packaging, phthalate, can be harmful if ingested.

Citing a Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics report and a seven-year Centers for Disease Control (CDC) based study that examined the dangerous relationship between chemicals present in fast food packaging and health effects on the human body Schume says that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has done "little-to-nothing to investigate these health concerns and protect the public from chemicals contained in the fast food products that wrap our sandwiches, hold our drinks or carton our fries."

“To think that we have all this data on phthalate chemicals from doctors, scientists, health experts and other industries just sitting around, frozen like a beef patty and begging for the FDA to take it to the next appropriate level of scrutiny is worrisome for the consumer,” Schumer said in a prepared statement. “The studies are clear: the link between these chemicals does have an impact on the body, and not a very good one. That is why I am asking the FDA to launch a formal investigation into the fast food products that wrap our burgers or subs, hold our drinks and contain our leftovers.”

The chemicals, known as phthalates (THA-LATES), exist in a slew of the fast food industry’s packaging products and have been banned or at least studied by other industries. Yet, when it comes to the fast food industry, these chemicals remain on the inventory supply menu, and Schumer says he wants a formal FDA investigation into fast food packaging and its health consequences.

“Consumers are not giving these everyday packaging products a second thought. They assume they are safe—and they should be, especially when their reach extends to millions upon millions of Americans. So, the FDA must take my order for a fast food packaging investigation very seriously and take this long-sitting health data off the backburner. The agency must now take a closer look at these products for the sake of consumers and their everyday health," Schumer said in a news release.

In making the case for the FDA investigation, Schumer noted that studies have found that people who regularly consume fast food tended to have higher levels of phthalates in their bodies versus those who rarely ate fast food. This means that phthalates from fast food packaging can directly transfer right to the food it is wrapped around or the drink it holds. In addition, researchers believe that these chemicals can seep into the foods during processing from other materials that are used in handling those foods, according to Schumer's office.

According to the CDC, phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. People may become exposed to phthalates by eating and drinking foods that have touched containers and products made with phthalates and young children may also come in contact with phthalates when putting toys that contain the chemicals into their mouth. Once phthalates enter a person’s body they are converted into metabolites that passed out via urine, Schumer said.

According to the FDA, certain phthalates are shown to be toxic and can cause both developmental and reproductive medical complication. A recent Environmental International study found that phthalates were associated with lower levels of active thyroid function in 3-year-old girls. A 2014 study in the JAMA Pediatrics found a link between preterm birth and the level of phthalates found in the mother’s urine. As a result, researchers recommend that pregnant women take proper precautions to minimize exposure and risk to this hazardous chemical. Additionally, a 2013 study from New York University pediatric and environmental researchers found an association between high levels of phthalates and increased insulin resistance in young adolescents, according to Schumer's office.

"A study from George Washington University found that people who regularly consume fast food tended to have higher levels of phthalates in their bodies versus those who rarely ate fast food. This shows that phthalates from fast food packaging can directly transfer into the food it is wrapped around. According to data collected by the CDC, between 2003-2010, as part of nationwide surveys, one-third of the participants who consumed a large amount of fast food in the last twenty-four hours showed two types of phthalates, DEHP and DiNP, at levels 23.8% and 39%, respectively. Those who consumed less fast food over that same time period showed 15.5% of DEHP and 24.8% of DiNP," Schumer's release said. "The European Union has restricted the use of four types of phthalates in consumer products. In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has restricted the use of six types of phthalates in children’s toys and other child care products, like those designed to facilitate sleeping, feeding, sucking or teething."

In his letter to the FDA, Schumer called for an immediate investigation into the use of phthalates in fast food and food packaging. He believes a study would help determine the safety of phthalates in food packaging and help ensure that people are not being exposed to potentially harmful chemicals.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is below, as well as links to the JAMA Pediatrics phthalates study and the seven-year one conducted by the CDC:

CDC-collected data: https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/15-10803/

JAMA: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/1769135 also http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/1809291

"Dear Dr. Gottlieb:

I write today to urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take immediate action and investigate the use of phthalates in fast food and food packaging. Certain phthalates are banned from a variety of products, including children’s toys and baby bottles, because of their harmful effects on child development both in utero and throughout childhood. It is crucial that the entity responsible for ensuring safety of food products be aware of and properly respond to the presence of these chemicals in the packaging of foods we consume.

As you know, phthalates are widely used across numerous products and industries to make plastics flexible. According to the FDA, certain phthalates are shown to be toxic and can cause both developmental and reproductive problems. A recent study from George Washington University found that people who regularly consume fast food tended to have higher levels of phthalates in their bodies versus those who rarely ate fast food. This means that phthalates from fast food packaging can directly transfer into the food it is wrapped around. In addition, researchers believe that these chemicals can seep into the foods during processing from other materials that are used in handling those foods.

A 2014 study in the JAMA Pediatrics found a link between preterm birth and the level of phthalates found in the mother’s urine. As a result, researchers recommend that pregnant women take proper precautions to minimize exposure and risk to this hazardous chemical. Additionally, a 2013 study from New York University pediatric and environmental researchers found an association between high levels of phthalates and increased insulin resistance in young adolescents. Simply minimizing exposure to plastics is not enough to combat this evidently hazardous chemicals.

I applaud the FDA’s oversight of food packaging and your ongoing work to enforce safety standards on consumable goods across the country. However, it is clear that further investigation is needed to determine the safety of phthalates in food packaging. We must do all we can to avoid exposing our families and children to potentially harmful chemicals. Thank you for your consideration on this important health concern.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer"