We've all heard about the Kellogg's recall of 28 million boxes of breakfast cereal. The cereal was recalled because a chemical—a petroleum byproduct—used in the packaging was found on the food itself, altering the taste and smell, and causing some people to get sick.

Now reports are coming out that federal regulators don't know much at all about the chemical in question, 2-methylnaphthalene. The Washington Post reports:

Federal regulators, who are charged with ensuring the safety of food and consumer products, are in the dark about the suspected chemical, 2-methylnaphthalene. The Food and Drug Administration has no scientific data on its impact on human health. The Environmental Protection Agency also lacks basic health and safety data for 2-methylnaphthalene -- even though the EPA has been seeking that information from the chemical industry for 16 years.

A mini-inquiry by the Environmental Working Group found the same lack of information:

In 1998, EPA identified the compound as a high production volume (HPV) chemical that lacked basic safety data in the public literature. The agency sought a corporate sponsor to submit such data to EPA's "HPV Challenge" program. In 1999, a consortium of large petrochemical interests volunteered, including BP, Chevron, Condea Vista, Exxon, Fina Oil, Koch, Marathon Ashland, Mobil Oil, PDV Midwest Refining, Phillips Petroleum, Shell and Sunoco. Eleven years later, however, EPA's HPV Challenge program website shows no data whatsoever submitted by these companies (EPA 2010)

EWG also points out that 2-methylnaphthalene "is structurally similar to naphthalene, which was the primary component in mothballs until those products were reformulated due to toxicity concerns."

Congressmen Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak have asked Kellogg [PDF] to hand over all documents related to assessments of health risks from 2-methylnaphthalene by August 16.

Until then—and probably after then, as well—you're probably better off avoiding Kellogg's cereals. Buying in bulk is always better for the environment anyway, and you won't have to worry about mothball-like chemicals leaching from packaging into your food. Or just skip the cereal and get creative with breakfastmuffins, anyone?