In a recent article, National Geographic reporter Sarah Gibbens relies on a series of unfounded claims about the health and environmental impacts of PVC to criticize plastic wrap products like Saran™ Wrap. Worse, the article confuses readers by referring to compounds interchangeably while falsely implying that products like Saran™ Wrap contain chemicals that have been absent for decades. Here are the facts:
Saran™ Wrap is not made with polyvinylidene chloride or vinyl chloride in any form. Saran™ Wrap does not contain chloride. It is made from polyethylene -- and has been for more than 15 years in the U.S. market. In fact, Ms. Gibbens notes that Saran™ Wrap transitioned away from polyvinylidene chloride years ago, but later contradicts herself by erroneously claiming that it still contains as much as 13% vinyl chloride. If the reporter can’t get her facts straight on even this most basic issue, how can readers trust any of her claims?
There is no health risk to “wrapping [your] food in a plastic made with chloride.” Virtually all food contains chloride in far higher quantities than could ever be replicated by contact with PVC wrap. Sodium chloride, or table salt, is one of the most common ingredients in the average diet. It is used as a preservative, a flavoring aide, and in the curing process. The kind of sensationalist language used by Ms. Gibbens is overblown and not based on fact.
The FDA does not regulate the use of PVC in food packaging in the way the author describes. Ms. Gibbens claims the FDA regulates PVC food packaging, yet the source she cites is an FDA guidance document – not a regulation – for calculating the average amount of a person’s diet that comes into contact with certain materials. The guidance document makes no claims about safety. If Ms. Gibbens is referring to a different “regulation,” she should produce it for her readers.
PVC does not release dioxins in landfills. The author is misrepresenting information from the National Institutes of Health (which she incorrectly attributes to the World Health Organization). As we’ve explained before, dioxins are a byproduct of nearly every material when burned in an accidental fire. And PVC is no different from any other material in this regard. Ms. Gibbens should take better care to accurately represent the science.
DEHA plasticizers have been used for years with no harmful health effects. The author claims the “effects [of DEHA] on human health are unclear.” Yet she disregards the findings of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which completed a toxicity review on DEHA and found that it has been thoroughly studied over five decades -- and any health concerns are unproven or lack human relevance.
This piece is a prime example of journalistic malpractice (which is becoming a pattern for National Geographic). As explained above, the piece gets it wrong on the facts – big and small – and stokes baseless panic among readers about products that are perfectly safe and have been in use for decades. As long as media outlets continue to promote this kind of misinformation, we will continue to do their homework for them -- and hold them accountable.