Posted on Oct 11, 2019, 6 p.m.
A forever toxic chemical called PFAS is used in fast food packaging, the long lasting chemical seeps into food and builds up within our bodies. This adds to the many reasons such as the calories and additives making fast foods unhealthy and to be avoided.
Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a class of chemicals commonly used in household items to make them water or fire resistant; a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives examined levels of PFAS in those who consumed fast food versus those who eat home cooked meals.
Using data from the CDC’s NHNES comprehensive and maintained dataset PFAS levels were analysed from blood samples collected from over 10,000 people from 2013-2014; 5 commonly used PFAS were found in blood from around 70% of those.
Surveys asked how often fast food had been consumed over the past 24 hours, week, and month; after a 24 hour period those who had eaten fast food consistently showed an increased amount of PFAS in their blood. Per and polyfluoroalkyl contaminants do not pass easily and can linger in the body for years, meaning regular fast food consumption adds more PFAS to our systems.
While it is unclear what the threshold is before PFAS begin to take their toll on humans, a number of studies have linked PFAS to thyroid disorders, hormonal changes, weight gain, and cancer. As such the city of San Francisco and Washington state are among the first to have passed legislation to limit the use of PFAS in food containers.
A study of 400 fast food wrappers and containers found more than half of bread and dessert wrappers contained the fluorine compound, it was present in 40% of sandwich and burger wrappers, as well as 20% of paperboard such as fry containers as it is commonly added as barrier to packaging because it resists water and grease to make food more portable.
“We’re still learning about health effects that may occur at lower and lower levels of exposure,” says study author Laurel Schaider, an environmental engineer and chemist at the Silent Spring Institute. “Food is just one source of exposure,” she says, noting that PFAS is commonly found in paint, carpeting and clothing. “At this point I would say it makes sense for people to try to reduce their exposure, but we’re not able to link a certain rate of fast food intake with harmful health effects.”
PFAS is known for the inability to break down, and the compounds in it have earned it the nickname of the forever chemicals, even the weakest of PFAS can remain in the body for months. It is difficult to demonstrate a measurable health impact from consuming 5 PFAS contaminated burgers a week compared to just one a week due to how ubiquitous the chemicals are.
PFAS exposure has been shown to consistently result in damage to the immune system, liver, and kidney, as well as tumors and some strains show signs of causing cancer and thyroid disruption in animals studies.
Dozens of population studies were needed to show that early in life exposure can impact cognitive performance later in life, this finding helped to set stricter regulations on how profusely lead could be used. A consensus has yet to be reached on bisphenol-A, the FDA deems BPA to be safe but research indicates it could be an endocrine disruptor.
The amount of exposure can vary widely per each individual, this also makes it difficult for scientists to construct historical snapshots of when the contaminate was consumed. “There are windows of susceptibility for certain diseases, but it’s very difficult when studying adults to go back and recreate their exposures.”
“I am less interested in the aspect of popcorn and fast food and more fascinated that we see [that] 70 percent of the U.S. population is getting exposed to chemicals that cannot degrade,” says Rolf Halden, director of Arizona State University’s Center for Environmental Health Engineering.
Consumers should be concerned about the impact of PFAS on the environment after they have been discarded in addition to the unknown health consequences of consuming food that has been contaminated with PFAS. PFAS can also leach into groundwater from landfills, as a report from EWG has found that public tap water in California being supplied to 7.5 million people tested positive for PFAS contamination.
Restrictions on PFAS have also been proposed by California, New York, and Rhode Island, and Denmark has become the first country to ban its use from food packaging.
Halden adds, “It would be naive to think what’s here is the complete exposure to PFAS. That [total exposure] is much larger and still growing more complex.”
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.