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Health advocates to retailers: Drop the microwave popcorn

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Who doesn’t like microwave popcorn? It’s convenient, quick, easy and delicious.

Unfortunately, it might also be dangerous, according to the Campaign for Healthier Solutions, or CHS, a nationwide coalition of more than 100 environmental, justice, medical, community and public health organizations.

Representatives from CHS held a news conference Wednesday at the South Valley Economic Development Center to explain their efforts to get discount retailers to remove bags of microwave popcorn and replace them with simple popcorn kernels.

The danger is not from the popcorn itself, but the microwavable bag in which it is packaged, said CHS member Wynnie Young, from the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, Calif.

The inside of the bags is saturated with chemicals called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are intended to prevent the oils mixed in with the popcorn kernels from leaking through to the outside of the bag when heated in the microwave oven.

“PFAS can migrate into the popcorn and into the air when heated, exposing children and adults to potentially toxic levels of the chemicals, which can confuse body hormones and damage the kidneys and liver,” Young said.

Children are particularly susceptible because they tend to eat a lot of microwave popcorn, which has generally been regarded as a healthy snack, depending on how much oil, butter or salt is added.

CHS bought a number of microwave packages of different brands from discount retailers such as Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Family Dollar and the 99 Cents Only. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame found that all the bags contained PFAS, Young said.

In addition, while the ingredients inside the microwave bags are listed on the label, the label does not contain a warning to alert people about the dangerous chemicals that are part of the microwavable bag itself.

José T. Bravo, the CHS coordinator, said that although larger supermarkets sell microwave popcorn, too, they generally also offer packaged kernels without microwave bags. The smaller discount retailers, the focus of the campaign, usually do not offer kernels. They are also often located in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods where there are few other food store choices, and where there are large numbers of people who are on public food assistance programs.

Because there are more than 24,000 of these smaller discount food retail stores in the country, they collectively “have the clout to go back to their suppliers and say, ‘Look, our consumers are asking us to clean up our products and get the dangerous chemicals out.’ ” It’s that kind of pressure that can effect change, Bravo said.

The fix is simple, he said. Replace microwave bags of popcorn with plain kernels.

“We are offering you a solution to a problem – a very simple solution that is well within your means of what you can do.”

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