Nov. 18, 2005 — -- Could a Teflon chemical widely used in fast-food packages, candy wrappers, and microwave popcorn bags pose a health hazard?
A former DuPont senior engineer alleges the company long failed to disclose all it knew about the chemical. His allegations come as an environmental activist group has uncovered internal DuPont documents and provided them to the Food and Drug Administration for its review.
The FDA approved the chemical's use in a wide range of food package in 1967. An FDA spokesman says the FDA has not changed its position that food packaging containing the chemical is safe for consumer use, but confirms that it is investigating the chemical's safety.
Glen Evers, a 22-year veteran of DuPont, tells ABC News that DuPont failed to tell the FDA of internal studies showing that the chemical coating comes off food wrapping in greater concentrations than thought when the FDA first approved its use.
The chemical is widely used in the paper wrapping for fast foods such as french fries and pizza, as well as candy wrappers, microwave popcorn bags and other products. It helps to prevent grease stains from coming through the wrapper.
"You don't see it, you don't feel it, you can't taste it," Evers says. "But when you open that bag … and you start dipping your French fries in there, you are extracting fluorchemical … and you're eating it."
Once in the body, the chemical -- zonyl -- can break down into a chemical called PFOA. PFOA stays in the blood, a fact that was unknown when zonyl was first approved for use. The government says PFOA is now believed to be in the blood of nearly every American.
"It bioaccumulates, which means the chemical goes into the blood, and it stays there for a very long period of time," says Evers.
Studies have linked PFOA to cancer, organ damage and other health effects in tests on laboratory animals. The Environmental Protection Agency currently is considering its safety in humans.
A DuPont memo from 1987, obtained by the Environmental Working Group, reveals test results that show the chemical zonyl was coming off food wrapping at three times the amount DuPont first thought it would.
"They never notified the FDA. They never said to the FDA, 'We're stopping our production of this product until we figure out what the problem is,'" Evers said.
DuPont is already under criminal investigation for failing to notify the government that PFOA might have been linked to birth defects of children born to workers at a DuPont plant in West Virginia.
"The documents that we are sending now to the FDA show that this is a pattern of cover-up and suppression," said toxicologist Tim Kroop of the Environmental Working Group.
The company strongly denies any suggestion of a cover-up and insists the chemical is perfectly safe for use in food wrapping even though it does come off in small amounts. These small amounts, DuPont says, do not pose a health hazard. DuPont says it has "always complied with all FDA regulations and standards regarding these products."
Evers is suing DuPont, asserting they fired him because of his opposition to some of their practices. DuPont says Evers "lost his job in a restructuring" and denies his allegations.
"DuPont thinks that they have pollution rights to the blood of every American, every man, woman and child in the United States," says Evers.
ABC News' Jill Rackmill, Dana Hughes and Rhonda Schwartz contributed to this report.