Food Additive, Acrylonitrile, Banned in Beverage Containers

HRD-78-9: Published: Nov 2, 1977. Publicly Released: Nov 2, 1977.

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Acrylonitrile is a volatile, clear liquid, which can be formed into more complex compounds known as polymers that are used to make various plastic articles. Beverage bottles made of acrylonitrile copolymers are lightweight, do not cause injury if broken, and are, therefore, desirable to consumers. A characteristic of such bottles, however, is that after polymerization, a small amount of residual acrylonitrile that has not combined with other monomers remains in the plastic and may become part of the substance in the bottle. Some acrylonitrile copolymers also depolymerize to some extent, allowing additional acrylonitrile to migrate to the food.

In January 1977, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials decided that the use of acrylonitrile in making plastic bottles for carbonated beverages and beer should be banned and that all other acrylonitrile uses should be restricted to a maximum permissible migration level of .05 ppm. On March 7, 1977, Monsanto Company filed a motion in the U.S. court of appeals requesting a review of FDA suspension of its regulation authorizing the use of acrylonitrile in bottles intended to hold soft drinks. In its motion, Monsanto Company maintained that FDA had not followed the procedures required by section 409 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in suspending the regulation. The primary issue of this motion was whether FDA could remove a previously lawful product from the market without notice and opportunity for affected parties to contest the action. The court ordered that FDA suspension of the regulation be lifted until May 18, 1977, and that FDA hold the required public hearing promptly. The outcome was that acrylonitrile copolymers used to fabricate beverage containers were judged to be food additives and were not safe for use in food. FDA terminated all regulations that permit acrylonitrile in beverage containers.

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