Chemical in Kellogg Cereals Causing Illness

Chemical in Kellogg Cereals Causing Illness

The Age
August 3, 2010

WHEN US cereal giant Kellogg recently recalled 28 million boxes of Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops and Honey Smacks, the company blamed elevated levels of a chemical in the packaging.

Dozens of consumers reported a strange taste and odour, and some complained of nausea and diarrhoea. But Kellogg said experts it hired determined that there was ”no harmful material” in the products.

American regulators, charged with ensuring the safety of food and consumer products, are in the dark about the suspected chemical, 2-methylnaphthalene. The Food and Drug Administration has no scientific data on its impact on human health.

The Environmental Protection Agency also lacks basic health and safety data for 2-methylnaphthalene – even though the EPA has been seeking that information from the chemical industry for 16 years.

The recall hints at a larger issue: huge gaps in government knowledge about chemicals in everyday consumer products, from furniture to clothing to children’s products. Under current laws, the US government has little or no information about the health risks posed by most of the 80,000 chemicals on the US market.

”It is really troubling that you’ve got this form of naphthalene that’s produced in millions of pounds a year and we don’t have some of the basic information about how toxic it is,” said Erik Olson, an expert at the Pew Charitable Trusts, which is advocating an overhaul of US chemical laws.

In 1994, the EPA invited the chemical industry to submit health and safety data for 2-methylnaphthalene because it was being produced in large quantities, said Mary Dominiak of the EPA. Chemical manufacturers have yet to disclose that information, she said. And they may not even have it. If a manufacturer possesses data showing that a chemical harms health or the environment, it is required to turn over the findings to the EPA. Critics say that creates a disincentive for manufacturers to test their chemicals.

A component of crude oil, 2-methylnaphthalene is structurally related to naphthalene, an ingredient in mothballs and toilet-deodorant blocks that is considered a possible human carcinogen by the EPA.

Kay Cooksey, a packaging expert at Clemson University, said 2-methylnaphthalene likely ended up in cereal because something went awry in the manufacturing of the foil-lined bags. The foil is attached to the paper bag with an adhesive that is heated, she said. If too much heat was applied, or if the composition of the adhesive was incorrect, 2-methylnaphthalene could form.

Kellogg submitted a copy of its health-risk assessment to the FDA, but neither the company nor the agency would release it.

17,000 toxic chemicals kept secret from consumers