DAVID LAZARUS: CONSUMER CONFIDENTIAL

Carcinogen worries stick to food packaging

"We agree with DuPont that these products do not cause adverse health effects," said Bill Nelson, a 3M spokesman. "But we did not want to be a continuous source of these chemicals into the environment."

I asked if he meant into people's bodies.

"Into the environment," Nelson repeated, reflecting the chemical industry's wariness of being linked to a substance that's now ubiquitous in the general population.

Since 3M stepped aside, DuPont has had the U.S. market to itself. In 2005, the company agreed to pay $16.5 million to settle charges brought by the EPA that DuPont failed to report possible health risks associated with PFOA.

DuPont admitted no wrongdoing. "Our interpretation of the reporting requirements differed from the agency's," the company said at the time.

Turner told me the company had agreed to phase out PFOA by 2015 because of "questions that have been raised."

"We do not believe there is a human health risk," he said. "Yet there are questions that people have, and we are taking aggressive action."

Got that? No human health risk, which is why DuPont opposes Corbett's bill. But questions have been raised, which is why the company is getting out of the PFOA business.

Basically, Delaware-based DuPont doesn't want California pushing it around. Corbett's bill also would limit what chemicals DuPont could use to replace PFOA and would advance the time frame for getting rid of PFOA by five years.

Walker at the Environmental Working Group said the voluntary phaseout supported by the EPA was insufficient. He pointed out that it wouldn't apply to Chinese companies, which are among the leading manufacturers of food packaging.

Corbett's legislation, however, contains no enforcement mechanism. State authorities would be powerless to do anything if a company was found to be violating the ban.

Walker said the bill would at least provide consumers with ammunition to hold companies accountable in court. It also could allow complaints to be filed under California's statute governing unfair business practices.

"The important thing is that it would send a message," Walker said. "We believe very strongly that evidence of a chemical building up in people's blood is reason for concern."

Until scientists can come up with a safe alternative to PFOA, what's wrong with getting a little grease on your fingers when you eat popcorn or pizza?

Better still, you can't go wrong with a nice piece of fruit.

Consumer Confidential runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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