Warning: fast food packaging and grease-proof paper contain potentially harmful chemicals
By Henry Bodkin
Some fast food packaging contains potentially harmful chemicals that can leach into food, warns a new study.
Researchers found more than 20 toxic highly fluorinated chemicals, including a phased-out substance.
Grease-proof packaging has helped make burgers and pizzass on-the-go a less messy proposition.
But the new study shows some fast-food packaging contains a range of fluorinated compounds some of which have been linked to potential health effects.
Previous studies in humans have suggested that long-chain, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, are associated with developmental problems in children, decreased fertility and an increased cancer risk.
Some long-chain PFASs had commonly been used in a wide range of products to make them stain-resistant or waterproof.
Previous research has shown that substances in food packaging can migrate into food and, when discarded in landfills, could contribute to elevated levels of PFASs in the environment.
To find out how widely used PFASs are in fast-food packaging, researchers tested more than 400 paper wrappers, paperboard containers and cups from 27 fast-food chains across the United States.
They detected fluorine – an indication of fluorinated compounds – in nearly half of the food contact papers overall and 20 per cent of the paperboard containers.
Wrappers for Tex-Mex food, desserts and breads were the most likely to contain fluorine.
A more detailed analysis of a subset of 20 samples found that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a long-chain PFAS currently being phased out in the US, was among the packaging compounds.
The PFASs occurred at a wide range of concentrations, suggesting that some of them were not specifically added to the packaging but came from older, recycled materials or other undetermined sources.
The researchers say this could lead to the persistence of some of the compounds, even if phased out, for many years to come.
Study lead author Doctor Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist at Silent Spring Institute, said: “These chemicals have been linked with numerous health problems, so it’s concerning that people are potentially exposed to them in food.
“Children are especially at risk for health effects because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals.”
Co-author Doctor Arlene Blum, founder of the Green Science Policy Institute, said: “The replacement compounds are equally persistent and have not been shown to be safe for human health.
“That’s why we need to reduce the use of the entire class of highly fluorinated compounds. The good news is there are non-fluorinated alternatives available.”
Co-author Professor Graham Peaslee, a physicist at the University of Notre Dame who developed the method to screen food wrappers, added: “All PFASs, including the newer replacements, are highly resistant to degradation and will remain in the environment for a long time.
“Because of this, these highly fluorinated chemicals are not sustainable and should not be used in compostable products or any product that might end up in a landfill.”
The findings were published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.
source: The Telegraph