Study finds potentially harmful chemicals in fast food wrappers

Tuesday, 14 February, 2017

A peer-reviewed study has analysed the prevalence of highly fluorinated chemicals in fast food packaging in the United States, with concerning results.

Researchers tested more than 400 samples from 27 fast food chains. The paper wrappers, paperboard and drink containers were analysed for a class of chemicals called PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), also known as PFCs. These highly fluorinated chemicals are widely used in an array of non-stick, stain-resistant and waterproof products, including carpeting, cookware and outdoor apparel, as well as food packaging.

“These chemicals have been linked with numerous health problems, so it’s concerning that people are potentially exposed to them in food,” said Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist at Silent Spring Institute and the study’s lead author.

Reporting in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, the researchers found that almost half of paper wrappers such as burger wrappers and pastry bags, and 20% of paperboard samples, including boxes for fries and pizza, contained fluorine. Tex-Mex food packaging and dessert and bread wrappers, in particular, were most likely to contain fluorine compared with other categories of packaging.

Following a review by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2011, several major US manufacturers voluntarily agreed to stop using a long-chain PFAS called PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as C8) compounds in food packaging due to health hazards. However, other countries still produce them, and many companies have been replacing them with shorter-chain PFAS compounds, some of which were detected in the study.

“The replacement compounds are equally persistent and have not been shown to be safe for human health,” said co-author Arlene Blum, founder of the Green Science Policy Institute. “That’s why we need to reduce the use of the entire class of highly fluorinated compounds.”

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