Scientific research confirmed some time ago that food packaging in the U.S.–especially fast food packaging–contained toxic PFAS chemicals* that leached into the food consumers eat.** We reported a couple years back about evidence that Big Chemical companies DuPont and Daikin knew about the dangers of a PFAS chemical compound widely used in food packaging since 2010, but hid what they knew about the dangers from the public and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has been gathering data since 2022 to try and estimate how widespread the problem of toxic PFAS chemicals in food packaging is in the U.S. Now, researchers have discovered toxic PFAS chemicals in Canadian food packaging as well–specifically water-and-grease repellent paper alternatives to plastic.
Researchers collected 42 paper-based wrappers and bowls from fast-food restaurants in Toronto and tested them for total fluorine, an indicator of PFAS. They then completed a detailed analysis of eight of those samples with high levels of total fluorine. Fiber-based molded bowls, which are marketed as “compostable”, had PFAS levels three to 10 times higher than doughnut and pastry bags. PFAS are added to these bowls and bags as a water- and grease-repellent.
One PFAS chemical that is known to be toxic—6:2 FTOH (6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol)—was the most abundant compound detected in these samples. Other PFAS that were commonly found in all the Canadian fast-food packaging tested can transform into this compound, thereby adding to a consumer’s exposure to it. The scientists detected several PFAS for the first time in food packaging, showing how difficult it is to track the presence of this large family of compounds.
*PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are toxic to humans, animals and the environment. They are comprised of approximately 12,000 compounds. They are ubiquitous in the U.S., appearing in thousands of consumer and industrial products and are typically used to make products resist water, stains and heat, including household products (like carpeting, curtains, furniture upholstery, waterproof and stain-resistant flooring, etc.), cooking supplies (including cooking utensils and bake ware), clothing, personal care products (like cosmetics, including waterproof mascara) and even food (PFAS appears in processed food packaging for humans and pets) and public drinking water (tap water) that affects an estimated 2 million Americans. PFAS chemicals are usually found in products labeled “stain-proof” and “waterproof”. PFAS chemicals also appear in fire-fighting foam and other industrial products used at airports and military bases across the country, where the chemicals have leached into the groundwater. PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not readily break down in the environment or human body. PFAS chemicals have been linked in scientific and medical studies to a variety of serious health conditions including cancer (including testicular cancers), kidney disease, heart disease, thyroid problems, reproductive problems, endocrine problems (PFAS has been found to disrupt hormonal functions with some research suggesting that the PFAS chemicals are linked to accelerated ovarian aging, period irregularities and ovarian disorders like polycystic ovarian syndrome) and liver problems. Some newer PFAS have been found to accumulate in organs, so in some cases, science simply cannot detect the toxic chemicals when testing for it in blood.
**While nothing has been done at the federal level to ban PFAS from food containers, eleven U.S. states have banned PFAS from most food packaging, and two major restaurant chains (McDonalds and Wendys) to commit to becoming PFAS-free by 2025.
Also see: Toxic PFAS chemicals used in packaging can end up in food, study finds
Journal reference: Schwartz-Narbonne, H., et al. Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Canadian Fast Food Packaging. Environmental Science & Technology Letters, Publication Date: March 28, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00926 DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00926