Approval — and skepticism — from the environmental community greeted DuPont's announcement Feb. 6 that it plans to eliminate a "likely carcinogen," perfluorooctanoic acid, from coated packaging by 2015.
DuPont said new processes have already reduced by 96 percent the amount of PFOA emissions from U.S. factories. The company said it continues to reduce PFOA content in packaging products ahead of schedule, and expects to be able to eliminate the chemical completely by the voluntary deadline of 2015.
"If, in fact, they do it, we think it's great," said Kristan Markey, a research analyst with the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C. "We're not sure how they're going to do it, but we'd love to see them get there."
DuPont and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have come under fire from consumer groups that want perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, removed from the market.
EWG has led the fight to ban PFOA and similar compounds, claiming that the chemicals are hyper-persistent in both humans and the environment and that DuPont and the federal government knew of negative studies as far back as 1973 but ignored them.
Markey said Feb. 16 that DuPont, the market leader in such technology, appears to be making good efforts to develop new, patented coatings that will meet food processors' performance needs without using PFOA.
"We're excited that they announced they're reducing PFOA in their existing manufacturing lines ahead of schedule," he said.
PFOA, as it's known, is used to make fluorochemicals, which in turn make food packaging grease-resistant and nonstick. It's a byproduct of manufacturing such products as Scotchgard, Teflon and coatings for products ranging from leather to floor tile.
In the supermarket industry, it's found in such convenience food packaging as microwave popcorn bags, French fry packages, pizza boxes, candy wrappers and cardboard trays for frozen entrees.
Fluorochemicals have been shown to rub off packages or cookware, migrate into food and break down into PFOA and other constituents, which can pose health hazards when ingested.
In the meantime, Markey said, a plain brown paper bag, stapled at the top, serves as a safer cooking vessel for microwave popcorn.