Under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known as Proposition 65, the state is required to keep a list of substances that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
Acrylamide is already on the list, first entering it in 1990 for cancer risk. A per capita maximum dose level was later set at 0.2 micrograms a day. This was before the discovery that acrylamide forms naturally in many foods when they are baked, toasted or fried, and that most people were probably already consuming far more than 0.2 micrograms per day. The current proposal suggests a maximum allowable dose level for acrylamide of 140 micrograms a day for a 70kg (154lbs) male.
The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has said it is seeking public comments on the proposal, and on the proposed maximum allowable dose due to “the significant public interest in this chemical”.
Based on the results of a number of animal studies, OEHHA said: “The evidence is sufficient for listing acrylamide as known to cause reproductive toxicity by the authoritative bodies mechanism.”
The notice of intent to list, proposed maximum allowable dose level for acrylamide and instructions on how to comment can be found online here. The comment period is open until April 27.
Proposition 65 states: "No person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual.”
The alarm was first raised about acrylamide in food in 2002 when Swedish scientists found unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide in carbohydrate-rich foods and published evidence linking it to cancer in lab rats. Since then, research has poured into the area and industry has rallied to find ways to slash the chemical from foods.
Before then, it was thought that human exposure to acrylamide was primarily through its use in plastics and grouting agents.
Acrylamide in food is formed when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures by a process called the Maillard reaction, in which sugar reacts with an amino acid called asparagine to give baked and fried foods their brown color and tasty flavor.