The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has filed two petitions by influential consumer advocacy groups asking the agency to rescind its approvals for four carcinogenic chemicals used as food additives and color additives—benzene, trichloroethylene (TCE), methylene chloride, and ethylene dichloride. The petitions were submitted by the Environmental Defense Fund, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, the Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Working Group (EWG), and Lisa Lefferts, an environmental health consultant.
The chemicals are used as solvents in decaffeinated coffee, hops and hop extracts, spice extracts, in ink used to mark produce, in water used to wash sugar beets, and to dilute pesticides. The petitioners assert that the additives are known or anticipated to cause multiple forms of cancer, including liver cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In addition to cancer, the chemicals have been linked to health effects like fetal cardiac malformations and other developmental problems (TCE), decreased blood cell counts (benzene), kidney damage (ethylene dichloride), and liver harm (methylene chloride).
In 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to eliminate all uses of TCE and most uses of methylene chloride regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act due to their risks for cancer and other serious health harms. However, food uses regulated by FDA under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act remain.