A Clear Rap for Plastic Wrap

Student Claire Nelson finds carcinogens and harmful chemicals leach from plastics in the microwave.


Versions of this e-mail hoax have been circulating for a number of years.


Subject: Plastic Wrap

Plastic Wrap in Microwave Ovens PLEASE READ THIS! As a seventh grade student, Claire Nelson learned that di(ethylhexyl)adepate (DEHA), considered a carcinogen, is found in plastic wrap. She also learned that the FDA had never studied the effect of microwave cooking on plastic-wrapped food. Claire began to wonder: "Can cancer-causing particles seep into food covered with household plastic wrap while it is being microwaved?"

Three years later, with encouragement from her high school science teacher, Claire set out to test what the FDA had not. Although she had an idea for studying the effect of microwave radiation on plastic wrapped food, she did not have the equipment. Eventually, Jon Wilkes at the National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson, Arkansas, agreed to help her. The research center, which is affiliated with the FDA, let her use its facilities to perform her experiments, which involved microwaving plastic wrap in virgin olive oil.

Claire tested four different plastic wraps and "found not just the carcinogens but also xenoestrogen was migrating [into the oil]...." Xenoestrogens are linked to low sperm counts in men and to breast cancer in women. Throughout her junior and senior years, Claire made a couple of trips each week to the research center, which was 25 miles from her home, to work on her experiment. An article in Options reported that "her analysis found that DEHA was migrating into the oil at between 200 parts and 500 parts per million. The FDA standard is 0.05 parts per billion."

Her summarized results have been published in science journals. Claire Nelson received the American Chemical Society's top science prize for students during her junior year and fourth place at the International Science and Engineering Fair (Fort Worth, Texas) as a senior.


Contrary to this e-mail hoax, consumers can be confident that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration carefully reviews new substances intended for food contact before allowing them on the market. New plastics and plastic additives, such as DEHA, are permitted for food use only after FDA reviews the scientific data and is satisfied that they are safe for their intended use.

As part of its review, FDA assesses the migration potential of these substances. Based on the results of extensive testing and review, FDA permits the use of DEHA in food-contact applications. Also contrary to the e-mail, DEHA is neither regulated nor classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, the National Toxicology Program or the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the leading authorities on carcinogenic substances.

According to FDA, while it is true that chemicals used to make plastics can leach into food from plastic containers and films, all of the regulated chemicals used to make plastics for food contact, including DEHA, have been reviewed by FDA and have been found safe for their intended use.

Although a real student named Claire Nelson did receive an award for a school project in the late 1990s, the award was based on her systematic approach to exploring a question, not for identifying a danger to human health as suggested in the e-mail hoax.


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