New study finds existence of harmful chemicals in fast food packaging

2 February 2017 (Last Updated February 2nd, 2017 18:30)

A new study, carried out by researchers from Silent Spring Institute in the US, has revealed that more than two dozen toxic highly fluorinated chemicals are present in various food packaging solutions, which are used to pack fast food.

A new study, carried out by researchers from Silent Spring Institute in the US, has revealed that more than 2 toxic highly fluorinated chemicals are present in various food packaging solutions, which are used to pack fast food.

During the study, researchers tested more than 400 samples, which include paper wrappers, paperboard, and drink containers, from 27 fast food chains throughout the country.

The study found that a class of chemicals, called per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) or PFCs, were present in several nonstick, stain-resistant, and waterproof products, including carpeting, cookware, outdoor apparel, as well as food packaging.

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

“Children are especially at risk for health effects because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals.”

Exposure to some PFASs has also been associated with cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, low birth weight, and decreased fertility.

During the course of the study, the researchers employed a new technique using particle-induced gamma-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy to analyse the samples for fluorine, a marker of PFASs.

"Children are especially at risk for health effects because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals."

It was 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.

Green Science Policy Institute founder and co-author of the study Arlene Blum said: “The replacement compounds are equally persistent and have not been shown to be safe for human health.

“That’s why we need to reduce the use of the entire class of highly fluorinated compounds. The good news is there are non-fluorinated alternatives available.”

Currently, around one third of children in the US consume fast food every day.