Beware of Fast Food . . . Wrappers?

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Researchers have found that the chemicals used to keep grease from leaking through fast food wrappers are being ingested by people and showing up as contaminants in their blood.

Environment News Service is reporting on a new study by the University of Toronto that found that perfluoroalkyls can migrate from food wrappers commonly found on fast food products and microwave popcorn bags into the bodies of consumers. These contaminants are synthetic chemicals that repel oil, grease, and water and are used in surface protection products such as non-stick pans, carpet and clothing treatments and coating for paper and cardboard packaging.

Perfluoroalkyls include a group of hazardous chemicals such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) which are known as “gender bending” chemicals because they can disrupt the endocrine system and affect sex hormones as well as cholesterol levels. Exposure to PFOA has also resulted in early death and delayed development in mice and rat pups, although scientists have not yet determined if these outcomes could also occur in humans.

“This discovery is important because we would like to control human chemical exposure, but this is only possible if we understand the source of this exposure,” said University of Toronto environmental chemists Scott Mabury.

“In addition, some try to locate the blame for human exposure on environmental contamination that resulted from past chemical use rather than the chemicals that are currently in production,” he said.  

Some of these chemicals include those currently being used on non-stick pans, furniture, cosmetics, household cleaners, clothing, and packaged food containers, all of which contain chemicals that can break down into PFOAs either in the environment or in the human body.

The researchers concluded that due to the long time that PFOA remains in human blood, even low-level exposure could, over time, result in significant exposure to PFOA.

Regulatory interest in human exposure to these chemicals has been growing with governments in Canada, the United States and Europe signaling their intentions to begin extensive and longer-term monitoring programs for these chemicals.

Madbury claims that in the past, regulators made three erroneous assumptions that they are now being forced to reconsider: “That the chemicals wouldn’t move off paper into food, they wouldn’t become available to the body and the body wouldn’t process them. They were wrong on all three counts.”

The study appeared in the November issue of the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives,” published by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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