By Kathryn Alcantar, Center for Environmental Health, and Jose Bravo, Campaign for Healthier Solutions

No one should be exposed to toxic chemicals in their food, particularly children. But that’s exactly what the Center for Environmental Health found in tests of microwave popcorn bags sold in discount retailers. Communities of color and millions of poor Americans frequent these stores.

In fact, every single bag that was independently tested contained toxic per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) — chemicals linked to developmental problems, hormone disruption, organ damage and more. These findings are particularly alarming for children’s health, as their bodies are still developing, making them more vulnerable to the effects of hormone disruptors.

In response to these findings, the Center released a video featuring the Oakland rapper Mystic and a local kindergarten class to educate families about dangerous toxic chemicals put in microwave popcorn bags. Filmed at Roses in Concrete Community School in East Oakland, the fun and engaging educational video also includes a supporting fact sheet that teaches families how to make their own safe, toxic-free microwave popcorn.

The video is part of a larger effort by the Campaign for Healthier Solutions to convince discount retailers including Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Dollar General and 99 Cents to embrace greater corporate responsibility and protect the health of customers and their families.

PFASs confuse our bodies’ hormones and damage the liver and kidneys. Hundreds of PFAS chemicals exist, yet there is no publicly available information about which ones are used in microwave popcorn products. In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration determined that certain PFAS chemicals could migrate out of microwave popcorn bags and contaminate popcorn. A 2007 publication from the Environmental Protection Agency tested 17 types of microwave popcorn from eight different brands and detected PFAS in the air from just-heated popcorn bags, suggesting people might also inhale these chemicals when eating microwave popcorn.

Unfortunately, it’s not just microwave popcorn we need to worry about. Families may be exposed to a wide array of hazardous chemicals in a variety of products, most of which are under-regulated by authorities. PFASs or their chemical cousin perfluorochemicals are used for stain, water and/or grease resistance. They are not just in microwave popcorn bags but also in many household items, including furniture, carpet and carpet cleaners, textiles, floor waxes and outdoor apparel. A 2017 study by the Center for Environmental Health found that 38 percent of the cans tested from dollar stores contained the hazardous chemical BPA, another hormone disruptor. Numerous other studies have also shown that toxic chemicals are commonly found in Dollar Store products.

The seriousness of the threat posed by PFAS to consumers makes this more than just a toxic chemical issue, but a social justice one. Dollar stores are often located in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods that are already exposed to chemical hazards at higher levels. Frequently, these stores are the only store selling food and household products for miles, and they don’t typically provide plain popcorn kernels as other retailers have, which are needed for making safer popcorn. Adding to this problem, dollar stores have committed to doing almost nothing beyond their minimum legal requirements to protect people who have no other shopping options.

The Center for Environmental Health, the Campaign for Healthier Solutions and a broad coalition of community groups, public health advocates, environmental justice organizations and consumers are urging dollar stores to adopt comprehensive, transparent hazardous chemical policies; to encourage microwave popcorn manufacturers to stop selling food products that contain hazardous chemicals; and to offer safer alternatives — like popcorn kernels — in their stores until they do.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.