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After tests showed PFAS chemicals in food, FDA says it's fine

Justine McDaniel, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

Chemicals found in some food in recent testing by the Food and Drug Administration do not pose a health risk, the FDA said in a statement released Tuesday that sought to dismiss worries about the substances, which have been linked to cancers and other serious health problems.

"Based on the best available current science, the FDA does not have any indication that these substances are a human health concern," commissioner Norman E. "Ned" Sharpless and deputy commissioner Frank Yiannas wrote.

The science surrounding the chemicals -- per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS -- is still developing and the federal government has yet to regulate the chemicals, but many researchers agree they pose health risks. The Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of analyzing the chemicals' toxicity and considering creating a national drinking-water standard.

Scientists have found associations between "cases of medically diagnosed illnesses" and high blood levels of PFAS in people. "We have started to demonstrate causation, ... that exposure to PFAS leads to adverse health effects," said Jamie DeWitt, a researcher and pharmacology and toxicology professor at East Carolina State University, last week.

A large number of federal lawmakers and state officials have launched an urgent response to PFAS contamination in drinking water and groundwater, including in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, where tens of thousands of residents have been affected.

After news reports last week, including by The Philadelphia Inquirer, on the food test results, the FDA repeated that PFAS were not found in the majority of tested foods, which were mainly from areas without any known PFAS problem.

"FDA routinely underestimates the risks chemicals pose, especially the risks posed by food chemicals that migrate from food packaging into food, including PFAS chemicals," said David Andrews, a senior scientist at Environmental Working Group, which advocates for regulation of PFAS. "FDA should be fighting to reduce our exposure to toxic PFAS, not papering over the risks."

The FDA did find PFAS in some produce and meat from areas with a known source of PFAS contamination at levels above the EPA's health advisory for drinking water (though that advisory was not created for food). PFAS can get into food through contaminated water, soil and fertilizer and are also used in some packaging.


Milk from a dairy farm in New Mexico was thrown out after the FDA tests because of its high levels of PFAS, the FDA said.

"In the case of the produce samples from North Carolina, the levels of PFAS detected were low and, based on our safety assessment using the best available science, samples were determined not likely to be a health concern at the levels found through testing," the FDA said. "Overall, the FDA's testing to date has shown that very few foods contain detectable levels of PFAS."

Environmentalists called on the federal government last week to begin testing and regulating sewage sludge, which is used as a farming fertilizer and has been found in some places to contain and transfer PFAS.

The FDA said it has expanded its testing to analyze for PFAS in everyday foods and will continue sampling.

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