In an article published on January 9, 2017, Tom Neltner, chemical policy director at the non-governmental organization (NGO) Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), discusses a recently revealed rise in perchlorate content in foods.
Two total diet studies measuring perchlorate content in various foods were carried out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2003-2006 and 2008-2012, with results published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology in 2008 and 2016, respectively. The latter study found a significant increase in perchlorate content in various foods.
As an example, the 2016 publication reported some samples of the lunchmeat “Bologna” to contain up to 1,557 µg/kg of perchlorate, compared to less than 10 µg/kg found in 2008. Similarly, some salami samples had up to 686 µg/kg, compared to the earlier measured levels below 7 µg/kg, and in some samples of baby rice cereals, perchlorate levels up to 173 µg/kg were found, compared to less than 1 µg/kg measured previously. Neltner summarizes that in foods likely consumed by infants and toddlers, perchlorate went up by 34% and 23%, respectively. These findings are alarming because perchlorate is known to affect the thyroid gland, what may interfere with brain development in fetuses and children. Prenatal perchlorate exposure has been linked to lower IQ (FPF reported).
The FDA study did not discuss the reasons for the observed increase of perchlorate contamination of food. Neltner, however, points out that in 2005 the FDA allowed perchlorate to be used in food packaging, as an anti-static agent or as a sealant. For example, up to 12,000 parts per million (ppm) of perchlorate can be added to plastic packaging for dry food with no free fat or oil. Hence, perchlorate use in food contact materials may well explain the observed increase in perchlorate levels measured in foods sampled in 2003-2006 and 2008-2012.
In 2014, several NGOs sent a petition to the FDA to revoke the permission to use perchlorate in food packaging (FPF reported). The petition argued that the company which received approval for perchlorate use has made an error in its calculations that “underestimated the perchlorate exposure by 83 times.” In March 2016, NGOs sued the FDA for the delay in acting on the petition (FPF reported). In July 2016, the agency asked for more time to conduct an additional data review, and was granted a prolongation by the U.S. Court of Appeals until March 31, 2017 (FPF reported).
In light of the newly reported findings, Neltner calls on the FDA to “remedy a problem of its own making” and swiftly act to ban perchlorate use in food contact materials.
Tom Neltner (January 9, 2016). “FDA finds more perchlorate in more food, especially bologna, salami and rice cereal.” EDF
David Stegon (January 11, 2016). “U.S. FDA: Amount of perchlorate increasing in food products.” Chemical Watch
Tom Neltner (January 27, 2017). “Too many young children get too much perchlorate from food.” EDF Health
Murray, C., et al. (2008). “U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Total Diet Study: Dietary intake of perchlorate and iodine.” Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology 18:571-580.
Abt, E., et al. (2016). “Update on dietary intake of perchlorate and iodine from U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Total Diet Study: 2008-2012.” Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology (published on December 21, 2016).
Maffini, M., et al. (2016). “Perchlorate and diet: Human exposures, risks, and mitigation strategies.” Current Environmental Health Reports 3:107-117.