Researchers Find Toxic Fluorinated Chemicals in Fast Food Wrappers

A new study has found that most fast food packages in the U.S. contain fluorinated substances that could be harmful if they seep into the food.

Unfortunately for most of us, that sample included sandwich and pastry wrappers, French fry bags, pizza boxes, and "other paper and paperboard products". Even if the chemicals are phased out, they are highly persistent in the environment.

"There is very little public information on how much leaching occurs, as there are lots of different types of coatings made with this family of chemicals", David Andrews, Ph.D., a scientist with EWG and one of the wrapper study's co-authors, said in a statement. You might recognize them as the nasty chemicals behind the DuPont class action lawsuit when perfluorooctanoic acid was found in the water supply of a West Virginia town near their teflon plant.

Some long-chain PFASs had commonly been used in a wide range of products to make them stain-resistant or waterproof.

Fluorinated chemicals are really unique in that they never break down.

About one in three American kids eat fast food every day.

Avoiding fast food restaurants might be a good place to start, or you could try asking for your burger served straight into your hands - or mouth. "A woman who eats fast food frequently during her pregnancy might consume enough of these chemicals to affect the future health of her child".

Reporting February 1 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, the researchers applied a novel technique using particle-induced gamma-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy to analyze the samples for fluorine-a marker of PFASs.

"We think it's likely that some of these products are made outside the USA where PFOA hasn't been phased out".

Other studies have found these chemicals in drinking water and in the blood of nearly everyone tested. They also contained PFASs. They are used in a wide range of products, including carpeting, upholstery, floor waxes and outdoor apparel, the study authors said.

FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney said the agency has "carefully reviewed the available science" on the short-chain compounds and hasn't identified any safety concerns. "Even though the new replacements, in theory, don't build up in your body as fast, they have pretty much the same chemical structure as the ones we know are risky", Bill Walker, the vice president of the Environmental Working Group, explains.

Our report takes pains not to point the finger at fast food companies or their franchisees, or to suggest that eating at one chain is less safe compared to another. The trouble is these fluorinated chemicals have also been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, hormone problems, high cholesterol, obesity and immune suppression in human and animal studies.

"This is a wake-up call for those companies and the consumers", Peaslee said. PFASs have been found to leech into fast food if they're present in the packaging.

"However, we found a substantial portion of fluorinated food contact papers from these two chains", the investigators said.

For consumers, it's hard to tell the difference between packaging with PFAS and those without them.

Many fast food wrappers and boxes may contain harmful chemicals that can leach onto food.

According to the Foodservice Packaging Institute, only "short-chain" fluorinated chemicals are still used in fast-food packaging.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

  • Tracy Ferguson