Many of the world’s plastic containers and bottles are contaminated with toxic PFAS, and new data suggests that it is likely leaking into food, beverages, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, Cleaning products and other elements at potentially high levels.
It’s difficult to say precisely how many plastic containers are contaminated and what it means for consumers’ health because regulators and industry have conducted very little testing or follow-up until this year, when the Environmental Protection Agency discovered that chemicals were seeping into a mosquito pesticide. A plastic company from the USA. reported “Fluorinate” – or effectively add PFAS to – 300 million containers in 2011.
But public health advocates say new revelations suggest that the compounds are much more ubiquitous than previously thought, and fluorinated plastic packaging, especially those used with food, likely represents a major new point of exposure to PFAS.
“Fluoridation is used for plastic food packaging, cosmetic packaging, it’s in everything,” said Tom Neltner, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s disturbing.”
PFAS substances, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, are a class of approximately 9,000 compounds that are used to make products such as water, stain and heat resistant clothing and carpets. They are called “permanent chemicals” because they do not break down naturally and can accumulate in humans.
The chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, plummeting sperm counts, kidney disease, lowered immunity, and a variety of other serious health problems.
A 2011 study from the University of Toronto also suggests that chemicals can leak out of plastic containers in large volumes. PFAS levels in water left in a fluorinated container for one year were measured at 188,000 parts per billion (ppt). For context, some states allow as little as 5ppt in drinking water, while public health advocates say anything above 1ppt is dangerous.
The study findings strongly suggest that chemicals would leach into foods and beverages, said Maricel Maffini, a researcher who studies the use of chemicals in food packaging. “Any level of PFAS in food in addition to what we already have is a problem,” he added.
Chemicals end up in or on plastic bottles through various routes. Plastic industry experts told The Guardian that PFASs are used as a lubricant during the manufacturing process to prevent containers from sticking to machinery and each other. Some of the chemical remains in containers that hold everything from food to cleaning products and personal care products.
Researchers at the Institute for Green Science Policy will publish a study in the coming months that “detected PFAS in plastic packaging for grocery items” and their peer-reviewed article will provide information on how often chemicals are used.
Plastic companies also treat bulk containers with fluorine gas. Containers in the US are used to store widely used fragrances, essential oils, and flavorings such as limonene that is added to fruit juices, sodas, baked goods, ice cream, puddings, and similar foods, or used in personal care products like shampoo and hands. soap. Containers, buckets, and drums are also used to store fuel, paint, and other industrial substances.
PFAS creates an effective barrier that prevents aromas and fragrances from slowly seeping out of the container; prevents oxygen or moisture from penetrating which could ruin the product; and protects containers from cracks or degradation.
But plastic industry experts also say that much of the contaminated plastic is recycled, meaning that the country’s plastic recycling stream is contaminated with PFAS.
Such wide use creates the potential for several troubling scenarios. Plastic containers that are contaminated with the chemicals could be recycled and used to create new containers with more PFAS added. More residual PFAS could also stick to the container during the manufacturing process. That hypothetical container could contain a flavoring that’s added to the cola, which is then added to a new 20-ounce bottle of soda that could also have PFAS from your production.
“Broadly speaking, what we are learning is creating more questions than answers, and there seem to be different levels of complexity to these questions,” Maffini said.
Several new US laws would ban PFAS on all cosmetics and food contact surfaces, including plastic. It would also ban their use as lubricants during the manufacture of food packaging. Although the EU does not ban the use of PFAS in food packaging, it is unclear how widely they are used in that capacity.
An EPA spokesperson said the agency was working with chemical companies and the packaging industry to understand how widely fluorinated packaging is used in at least one type of plastic, polypropylene, and how much pesticide has leaked into. An agency spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether the EPA would review all types of plastic, as the chemicals are used to make and fluoridate more than just polypropylene.
EPA scientists recently revealed that agency managers have change PFAS toxicology reports to make the chemical appear less harmful, weakening confidence in EPA’s ability to handle the problem. And the FDA approved the use of high levels of fluorinated gas with plastic food containers in 1983 at a time when much less was known about the chemicals. The agency had “an obligation” to reevaluate the approval, Neltner said.
“The problem is that the FDA did not reevaluate the chemicals that were previously approved,” Neltner said. “Once they approve something, they don’t re-evaluate unless there is [public pressure] or Congress demands it. “
An FDA spokesperson told The Guardian that it had banned the use of various subclasses of PFAS in food packaging, but that thousands of similar PFAS can still be used. The agency said it was also following the EPA study and will work with companies to remove chemicals that could be contaminating food products.
Testing plastic packaging is tricky because it is made of multiple layers and components like ink, and is often produced in multiple facilities. While there are regulations on the use of each component, nothing requires a final product to be verified.
The industry has also conducted less testing in recent decades, said Claire Sand, a plastic packaging consultant, and companies that do not adequately control packaging “are inadvertently complicit in the use of unapproved or higher-than-allowed chemicals in contact. direct with food “.
A plastics industry consultant who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity noted that there are multiple safe and effective alternatives to PFAS, which are often used in Europe to store food.
“The packaging industry takes frosty time to change, so the EPA or FDA have to say ‘No, you can’t do this’ and give them a transition period to get PFAS out,” they said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism