Sustained Outrage

New study reminds of chemicals in food wrappers

Here’s the top of today’s press release:

While enjoying fast food, many people feel some pangs of guilt at the calories and salt they are consuming.  Today researchers are pointing to yet another possible cause for concern. In a paper published in Environmental Science &Technology Letters, scientists found fluorinated chemicals in about a third of take-out food packaging samples tested.  Previous research has shown these chemicals can migrate from packaging into the food which people eat.

Fluorinated chemicals are used to give water-repellant, stain-resistant, and non-stick properties to consumer products such as furniture, carpets, outdoor gear, clothing, cosmetics, cookware, and even food packaging materials. The most studied of these substances has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems and changes in hormone functioning in adults as well as adverse developmental effects and decreased immune response in children.

In this study, the scientists from Silent Spring Institute, Notre Dame, Environmental Working Group, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Green Science Policy Institute collected and analyzed fast food packaging for this family of chemicals. In 400 samples of take-out packaging from fast food restaurants across the U.S., they found that 46% of food contact papers and 20% of paperboard contained fluorinated chemicals.

Study co-author Arlene Blum of U.C. Berkeley and the Green Science Policy Institute, said:

We should question putting any fluorinated materials into contact with food. “Given the potential for harm, we must ask if the convenience of water and grease resistance is worth risking our health.

Another study co-author, Graham Peaslee of the University of Notre Dame, said:

I was very surprised to find these chemicals in food contact materials from so many of the samples we tested. These chemicals are persistent and some bioaccumulate in the body, and there are safer non-fluorinated alternatives available.

We’ve written about this issue before here, here, here and here.

There’s more from the Environmental Working Group here, and here’s the abstract of the study published today:

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are highly persistent synthetic chemicals, some of which have been associated with cancer, developmental toxicity, immunotoxicity, and other health effects. PFASs in grease-resistant food packaging can leach into food and increase dietary exposure. We collected ∼400 samples of food contact papers, paperboard containers, and beverage containers from fast food restaurants throughout the United States and measured total fluorine using particle-induced γ-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy. PIGE can rapidly and inexpensively measure total fluorine in solid-phase samples. We found that 46% of food contact papers and 20% of paperboard samples contained detectable fluorine (>16 nmol/cm2). Liquid chromatography/high-resolution mass spectrometry analysis of a subset of 20 samples found perfluorocarboxylates, perfluorosulfonates, and other known PFASs and/or unidentified polyfluorinated compounds (based on nontargeted analysis). The total peak area for PFASs was higher in 70% of samples (10 of 14) with a total fluorine level of >200 nmol/cm2 compared to six samples with a total fluorine level of <16 nmol/cm2. Samples with high total fluorine levels but low levels of measured PFASs may contain volatile PFASs, PFAS polymers, newer replacement PFASs, or other fluorinated compounds. The prevalence of fluorinated chemicals in fast food packaging demonstrates their potentially significant contribution to dietary PFAS exposure and environmental contamination during production and disposal.