US: consumer watchdog finds “Forever Chemicals” in organic protein powders

The Environmental Research Center (ERC), a San Diego-based consumer protection nonprofit, tested five organic protein powder products sold in the US market and found presence of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). A document with these findings has been deposited at the California department of Justice.    

PFAS refers to thousands of compounds typically used to make products resistant to water, stains and heat. Known as “forever chemicals”, PFAS do not break down in the environment, instead they migrate through the food chain and tend to accumulate, including in our bodies. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to cancer, immune disorders, birth defects and other health issues.  

The ERC filing alleged that the manufacturing company is violating California’s Proposition 65 law, which among other provisions requires companies to alert consumers with appropriate warnings about toxic chemicals in products.  

The filing states that PFOA, a type of PFAS, was found in organic protein powder products of different flavors and package sizes. While the filing did not specify the levels detected, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), no level of exposure to the compound is safe in drinking water.  

The filing demands that the company and regulators recall the products, add warnings about PFOA to labels and pay for health monitoring for those who have consumed the product. It also calls for fines.  

"Such a resolution will prevent further unwarned consumer exposures to [PFOA], as well as an expensive and time-consuming litigation," the filing states. The ERC can sue after 60 days if demands are not met.    

The filing comes after two separate lawsuits earlier this year alleged that smoothies and juices from two major brands also contained PFAS and misled customers with “all-natural” claims.    

It's unclear how PFAS entered the powders, though unlikely to be intentional. Food packaging or contaminated ingredients could be the source.    

PFAS exposure is usually through water, but food and drinks are bigger risks than thought, studies show. Seven years ago the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) secured from companies a voluntarily phase-out of PFOA in food packaging, however, little has been done to set limits for PFAS in food. The FDA tests some foods annually but has developed a methodology that ignores dangerous levels, critics say. Because US government has not put in place stringent regulations on PFAS in food, lawsuits that accuse companies of misleading the consumers are one of the few ways to pressure them to address PFAS contamination.        



State of California Department of Justice