FDA must address endocrine-disrupting phthalates: House Oversight

By Sharon Udasin – 01/10/22 

water bottle in foaming water

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must take immediate action to address a class of endocrine-disrupting compounds, called phthalates, that continue to plague American food packaging, the House Oversight and Reform Committee demanded in a letter on Monday. 

“FDA is tasked with ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply, but over multiple administrations the agency has fallen short in protecting vulnerable Americans from the pernicious effects of foods contaminated with phthalates,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chairman of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, wrote in the letter addressed to acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock.

“FDA must not allow these dangerous chemicals to continue to hurt American families,” he wrote. “FDA must act without further delay, and should start by ruling on the outstanding petition to ban phthalates.”

Phthalates — chemicals that can interfere with hormone function — are associated with birth defects, infertility, learning disabilities and neurological disorders. Their presence is still common, however, in food packaging and processing materials. 

The letter called for “urgent action by FDA” on these “dangerous chemicals,” which can trigger “significant health problems in individuals who are exposed to higher levels than the general population.” Children exposed to phthalates in utero can also suffer from adverse health impacts, including cognitive development issues, the letter said. 

Acknowledging that some steps have been taken on a congressional level to address phthalate use in common household goods — such as a 2009 ban on phthalate concentrations of more than 0.1 percent in children’s toys — the letter stressed that much more progress must be made. FDA regulations, according to the letter, still permit the use of 28 different phthalates in food processing and packaging materials. 

Health and environmental advocates recently sued the FDA over its failure to rule on a 2016 petition to ban phthalates in these materials, as previously reported by The Hill and as noted in the letter. The FDA was required by law to respond to the principal petition within 180 days, according to the suit. 

The health and environmental groups accused the FDA of “sitting on years of scientific evidence” while babies and children continue “consuming phthalates in their food that endanger their brain development and long-term health.”

Krishnamoorthi’s letter also stressed that harms from phthalate exposure have disproportionately impacted communities of color. Pregnant Black women have greater exposure than pregnant white women, leading to poorer birth outcomes and creating “health disparities that cascade from one generation to the next,” the letter stated, citing a 2019 study. 

The letter goes on to request responses to a series of questions by Jan. 24 to assist the subcommittee with its reviewal of the issue. 

The questions ask when the FDA plans to issue a decision on the 2016 petition, what steps the FDA is taking to evaluate health effects of phthalates in food packaging and processing materials, how the FDA is working toward banning phthalates from these materials, and what data the FDA has that demonstrates that the 28 phthalates used in these materials are safe.

“The FDA has received the letter and will respond directly to Congressman Krishnamoorthi,” an FDA spokesperson said.