A new study reports that fast food packaging contains concerning levels of certain perfluoroalkyls and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAs), a relative of the chemicals used in non-stick pans, furniture, packing tape, and waterproof clothes. Among the items tested for PFAs were dessert and bread wrappers, sandwich and burger wrappers, paperboard containers, and paper cups. The dessert and bread wrappers were the biggest offenders, with 56% of them containing PFAs. Not only do these PFAs break down slowly in nature, but they’ve also been linked to higher cholesterol, higher rates of kidney and bladder cancer, weakened antibody responses to vaccines in children, and suppressed immune systems.
It’s Not Just the Wrappers
Fluorosurfactants come in many forms. They can be called PFAs, PFOA, PFOS, and PFCs. These chemicals are in the majority of stain-resistant, waterproof, non-stick, and fire-retardant items. The plethora of acronyms make it difficult to understand which ones have been banned. This creates confusion companies can use to their advantage.
The EPA has established a safety limit for these products, but the government doesn’t regulate them beyond that. The FDA did ban three PFCs found in pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags in 2016, and a form of PFAs, known as long chain PFAs, was banned in the early 2000s. All PFAs found in products like fast food wrappers are now short chain PFAs, which are the long chain PFAs minus a set of carbon molecules.
The Slow Takeover
In 2013, the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal published a study linking PFOAs in Teflon pans to thyroid disease. Many scientists have called for companies to stop using non-essential PFAs, while the FDA has approved nearly 100 new PFCs to use in food packaging in the last decade. The speed at which new fluorosurfactants are being developed makes it unlikely that scientific concerns will be taken as seriously as they should be.
Since fluorosurfactants take so long to break down in nature, they have plenty of time to migrate to water sources, release into the air, and contaminate soil. After looking at 36,000 water samples from more than 4,800 public water sources in 2016, Harvard University found that 16 million Americans are drinking water with PFAs. Of those water sources, 66 of them had levels at or above what the EPA considers safe.
Persistent Waste Creates Persistent Problems
One wonders where the ever growing number of PFAs will end up when they run out of space. No one seems to be clear on how they got in our water, and it doesn’t seem likely that anyone is going to step up and regulate them. PFAs continue to resist decomposition and mysteriously leach into water supplies and the food they are wrapped around unchecked, leaving us with a higher likelihood of thyroid disease, certain cancers, infertility, and developmental disorders in children. At some point, the advice to avoid fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn, and nonstick cookware will only minimize the exposure to PFAs. True avoidance will no longer be an option.
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- Fast Food Packaging Found To Be Just As Nasty As Fast Food – Rodale’s Organic Life
- The Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) – Environmental Health Perspectives
- Nonstick Cookware + Teflon Dangers – Rodale’s Organic Life
- What are PFASs, the Toxic Chemicals Being Found in Drinking Water? – PBS
- FDA Bans Three Toxic Chemicals From Food Wrapping – Too Little, Too Late – Environmental Working Group