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Toxic PFAS Found in Microwave Popcorn Exported from the U.S. to Indonesia
Bali, Indonesia and Oakland, CA - A report released today by IPEN and the Nexus3 Foundation shows that microwave popcorn products containing toxic PFAS are made in the U.S. and exported to Indonesia. Independent testing of popcorn products sold in the U.S. and Indonesia made by four major U.S. producers found that all 29 products tested contain PFAS. PFAS are known as “Forever Chemicals” due to their environmental persistence and potential threats to human health.
The study illustrates how a lack of federal PFAS regulations in the US along with corporate indifference can result in spreading toxic PFAS in food products to other countries such as Indonesia. The lack of PFAS regulations in Indonesia worsens the problem, leaving its residents vulnerable to PFAS-containing products
PFAS have been linked to immunological, reproductive, and developmental disruption, effects on birth weight, growth, learning, and behaviour, and other threats to human health. Studies have demonstrated that microwave popcorn bags containing PFAS are a source of PFAS in the body, as the chemicals can leach from the packaging into popcorn.
The IPEN-Nexus3 report, “Toxic Hazards in Microwave Popcorn” details testing of products from the American Popcorn company (Jolly Time brand popcorn), Ramsey Popcorn (Cousin Willie’s brand), Conagra (Act II brand), and Preferred Popcorn. All of the products purchased in Indonesia were imported from U.S. producers. A Preferred Popcorn “Kettle Korn” brand purchased in Indonesia tested with the highest concentration of PFAS. Among the US samples, an American Popcorn “Jolly Time Blast O Butter” brand contained the highest PFAS levels. In addition, PFOA was found in a Jolly Time product for sale in Indonesia but food contact uses of PFOA are prohibited globally by the Stockholm Convention.
“Indonesia should not be a dumping ground for toxic products from the US,” said Yuyun Ismawati, Senior Advisor with Nexus3 in Indonesia. “Authorities should stop the import of microwave popcorn containing PFAS and put regulations in place to ban these toxic substances. Indonesians know how to make popcorn on the stovetop.”
In January, IPEN and the U.S.-based Toxic-Free Future also surveyed the four companies for their policies on PFAS. In an emailed response, Conagra told the groups that it “removed PFAS last year from the packaging used for our ACT II microwave popcorn products in the U.S., and as of March 2023 we will no longer use PFAS in the packaging for our microwave popcorn products sold internationally under our ACT II brand." The other three companies did not respond.
In committing to eliminating PFAS, Conagra joins a growing list of companies including Ahold Delhaize, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Burger King (RBI), Whole Foods Market, and others that have committed to eliminating PFAS from their food packaging.
“Governments urgently need to address this issue at the source by prohibiting the production, sale, and use of PFAS as a class, particularly for non-essential uses,” aid Jitka Straková, a Global Researcher with IPEN.
Three PFAS chemicals -- PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS -- are listed under the Stockholm Convention for global restriction and elimination. In February 2023, the EU Chemicals Authority (ECHA) released a proposal calling for a ban on about 10,000 PFAS, noting that non-essential PFAS, including those used for food packaging, could be phased out first. While Indonesia is a Party to the Stockholm Convention, no government regulation limits PFAS in food packaging. According to the Indonesian Statistic Bureau, Indonesia imported US$3 million worth of microwave popcorn from the U.S. in 2021.
In the US, in the absence of federal regulations, some states are considering or have adopted PFAS restrictions. Eleven U.S. states have passed laws banning PFAS in food packaging, but this has not stopped exports of PFAS-containing products. In 2021, bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress to ban PFAS nationwide, however, the proposal failed due to corporate lobbying and lack of Republican support.
PFAS have been found to have contaminated subsistence foods in Arctic Indigenous populations and a study by Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) found PFAS in waters around Fairbanks and Anchorage. "Alaskans are suffering the devastating effects of exposure to these forever toxic chemicals. We are glad that Senator Lisa Murkowski has championed legislation to end the use of PFAS in food packaging and look forward to celebrating a win this year," said Pamela Miller, Executive Director of ACAT and Co-Chair of IPEN.
In 2018 and 2019, Toxic-Free Future published and released investigations into PFAS in food packaging at grocery store chains. In 2020, the campaign released a follow-up study, Packaged in Pollution, finding nearly half of all food packaging samples tested positive for fluorine above the screening level indicating the likely presence of PFAS, including in the packaging of McDonald’s Big Mac and Burger King’s Whopper.
The International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) is a global network of more than 600 Participating Organizations in over 125 countries, primarily developing and transition countries. IPEN works to establish and implement safe chemicals policies and practices that protect human health and the environment, for a toxics-free future for all.
Nexus Foundation for Environmental Health and Development or Nexus3 Foundation (previously known as BaliFokus Foundation) works to safeguard the public, especially vulnerable populations, from the impact of development on their health and the environment, towards a just, toxic-free, and sustainable future.
Toxic-Free Future is a national leader in environmental health research and advocacy. Through the power of science, education, and activism, Toxic-Free Future drives strong laws and corporate responsibility that protects the health of all people and the planet.