Many grease-resistant fast-food wrappers and boxes contain potentially harmful chemicals that can leach into food, a new study contends.
Testing on more than 400 samples from restaurants nationwide revealed that nearly half of fast-food wrappers and one out of five paperboard food boxes contained detectable levels of fluorine, said lead researcher Laurel Schaider. She’s an environmental chemist at the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Mass.
Previous studies have linked some fluorinated chemicals such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) to kidney and testicular cancer, low birth weight, thyroid disease, decreased sperm quality, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, and immune system problems in children, the study authors said in background notes.
Major U.S. manufacturers voluntarily phased out PFOA and PFOS for most uses starting in 2011, but other countries still produce them. These study results show than fluorinated chemicals are still widely present in food packaging, the authors said.
“One of the challenges in avoiding exposure is you can’t tell by looking a t a wrapper whether it contains fluorine,” Schaider aid. “We can choose not to purchase a stain-resistant carpet or a stain-resistant coating on our furniture. But it’s difficult for a consumer to choose food packaging that doesn’t have fluorinated chemicals.”
Fluorinated chemicals are referred to as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). They are used in a wide range of products, including carpeting, upholstery, floor waxes and outdoor apparel. The study authors said.
Some fast-food packaging is treated with PFASs to make the wrappers and boxes grease-resistant, Schaider said. It has been found that PFASs can leach into food from packaging, she said. Heat and grease appear to help the chemicals migrate into food, she added.
According to the Foodservice Packaging Institute, only “short-chain” fluorinated chemicals are still used in fast-food packaging. The “short-chain” chemicals “have been rigorously reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and found to be safe for their intended use,” the industry group said in a statement.
For the new study, the researchers said they gathered hundreds of samples from 27 fast-food chains in five metropolitan areas across the United States. They used particle-induce gamma-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy to analyze the samples for fluorine, Schaider said.
Studies have shown that PFASs from consumer products accumulate in landfills and can migrate into groundwater, Schaider said. Fluorinated chemicals also are allowed in compostable food packaging. “It seems incompatible to have these chemicals that never break down in paper that we want to compost” Schaider said.
The study was published Feb. 1 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
This is the problem when you allow business to self-regulate – U.S. manufactures no longer make PFASs, but U.S. companies just obtain the products containing these harmful chemical overseas.
The study goes on to raise concern about children as one-third of U.S. children consume fast-food every dat. Fluorinated chemicals have also been found in umbilical cord blood, suggesting that fetuses are expose to PFASs.
The use of “short chain” chemicals is based on the hope that the body can break them down more readily to reduce the toxic effects. That doesn’t translate into actually removing the fluorine from the body, just the octanesulfonic and octanoic acid.
The Bottom Line:
New regulations for these toxic chemicals are unlikely to be adopted. It is up to you, the consumer, to create enough public pressure to force the fast food chains to stop using these products.
Source: February 1, 2017 National Institutes of Health
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