FDA Bans Toxic Chemicals, But Is It Too Late?

Jan 29, 2016

John Sagebiel is an environmental chemistry professor at UNR.
Credit University of Nevada, Reno

Our newsroom recently received a puzzling press release from a national organization called the Environmental Working Group. It says that next month, the FDA will start banning certain toxic chemicals from being used in some food packaging such as card-box pizza and microwave popcorn bags.

These chemicals are called PFCs, or perfluorinated compounds, and they’re used to make products that can resist heat, grease and water.

Banning them sounds like good news, right?

But here is where it gets confusing. It turns out PFCs haven’t been produced in years. Reno Public Radio’s contributor Luiza Vieira,  sat down with an environmental chemistry professor at UNR to learn more.

Even though the FDA is banning toxic chemicals that are not in much use anymore, Sagebiel says this measure is an important step to raise awareness among consumers. 

"I don't think anything like that is too late." says Sagebiel. "By banning it we can raise the awareness of the use of a lot of similar types of compounds throughout all of our industrial processes."

Sagebiel says PFCs are not as toxic as other common compounds used in everyday products. 

"Ammonia is very toxic." says Sagebiel. "I would much rather be exposed to some perflurionated compound than to ammonia in large doses." 

However, Sagebiel recognizes PFCs can have long term effects and banning them from the food system was a positive decision.