Health.com reports that the Silent Spring Institute, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and the Green Science Policy Institute have joined researchers at the University of Notre Dame and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to analyze more than 400 wrappers and containers from 27 fast-food chains throughout the country. About half the wrappers tested contained flourine, a marker for fluoridated compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).
PFASs (also known as PFCs) make food wrappers and boxes resistant to grease. (Consumers are also exposed to PFASs in certain types of nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, and stain-resistant products.) Previous studies have linked PFAS exposure to fertility and thyroid problems, developmental delays in children, increased cancer risk, and other outcomes.
Further analysis of 20 samples found that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)—a long-chain PFAS that’s been linked to heart disease. California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recently announced it intends to list PFOA as a carcinogen under Proposition 65.
This study only looked at the presence of PFASs in the wrappers themselves, and not in the food they contained, or in the people consuming them. But previous research has suggested that PFASs have the potential to leach into food.
“It’s difficult to know how much will actually migrate, because it depends on temperature, the type of food, how long the food is in contact with the paper, and what specific PFASs you’re talking about,” says lead author Laurel Schaider, Ph.D., an environmental chemist at Silent Spring Institute.
The study was published in the February 2017 edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. EWG also published a companion report, recommending that all fast-food companies stop using fluorinated compounds in food packaging and that the Food and Drug Administration further restrict their use in products that have contact with food.
Common sources of PFaSs compounds include non-stick cookware and stain-resistant carpet and furniture treatments.