The other day I caved and bought myself fast food. The usual guilt I feel when putting hydrogenated deep fried shit into my body started to occur about a quarter the way into eating. Only recently however has this guilt found a partner; one that equally concerns me – the packaging thats used to contain the food.
“PFCs” can be an abbreviation for perfluorinated chemicals; or a subset of perfluorinated chemicals called perfluorcarbons; or it can also stand for perfluorinated compounds.
The abbreviation PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) is used alternatively to collectively describe PFOAs and PFOSs and other chemicals in this group (www.epa.gov, 2016).
If you’re familiar with the periodic table, you may recall the chemical element fluorine.
Fluorine is a dangerously reactive univalent poisonous gaseous halogen, it is pale yellow-green and is the most chemically reactive and electronegative of all the elements (lenntech.com, 1998-2017).
PFC’s are an organofluorine compound, which means it contains only carbon-fluorine bonds. They are used because of their hydrophobic (water-repellant) and lipophobic (oil/ fat resistant) properties. Their carbon-fluorine bonds makes them highly resistant to degradation (Schaider et al., 2017).
PFASs have been extensively used in water-, stain-, and oil-resistant consumer products, cookware, paints, waxes, fire-fighting foams, and polishes (Wu et al., 2015; Renner, 2001; Seacat et al., 2002). They have also been discovered in carpeting, carpet cleaners, upholstery, outdoor apparel, and food contact materials (FCMs) (Schaider et al., 2017; Kotthoff et al., 2015; Liu et al., 2015; Guo et al., 2009).
Certain PFASs and PFOSs and other chemicals were phased out voluntarily by major US manufacturers due to concerns of adverse health effects. However, these chemicals are still produced globally and continue to be imported to the U.S. (Schaider et al., 2017; U.S. Environmental Procession Agency., 2010/2015).
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, scientists detected PFASs in over 98% of the thousands of blood samples collected. Unfortunately for us, these chemicals are bioaccumulative and remain in our bodies for a long period of time.
PFCs bind to proteins and are distributed mainly to the blood serum, kidney, and liver (Lau et al., 2007). Numerous studies have found correlations between exposures to PFASs and kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, low birth weight, decreased sperm count, immunotoxicity in children, and pregnancy induced hypertension (Schaider et al., 2017; Barry et al., 2013; Fei et al., 2007; Stein et al., 2009; Joensen et al., 2009; Lopez-Espinosa et al., 2012; Grandjean et al., 2012; Vested et al., 2013). These chemicals have also been associated with high cholesterol and uric acid, as well as neurological effects, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children (Wu et al., 2015; Hoffman et al., 2010).
PFASs and FCMs
In 2014 and 2015, 407 samples of food packaging at U.S. fast food restaurants were collected and tested for detectable fluorine (F) concentrations by Schaider et al., 2017. The samples were divided into 6 categories: food contact paper (e.g. sandwich wrappers an pastry bags), non-contact paper (e.g. outer bags), food contact paperboard (e.g. boxes for fries and pizza), paper cups (e.g. for hot or cold drinks), other beverages (e.g. milk and juice containers), and miscellaneous (e.g. lids and applesauce containers).
Of the 407 samples, 33% had detectable total F concentrations, ranging from 16 to 800nmol of F/cm2. However, consider this – 16nmol of F/cm2 is equal to 30µg of F/dm2. This is the acceptable level of detection (LOD) according to the US guidelines. This acceptable LOD is buzz lightyears above the Danish Ministry of Environment and Foods guideline of 0.35µg of F/dm2 for total organic fluorine (Schaider et al., 2017; Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark., 2015). With that said – they detected PFASs in 100% of the samples collected with total F concentrations below the LOD.
The amount of PFASs that migrates from FCMs into our food is dependant on the amount, type, and chain length of PFASs used, the type of food (water -vs fat-based), the temperature, and the contact time. (Schaider et al., 2017; Begley et al., 2008; Yuan et al., 2016).
Presently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves more than 90 unique monomer and polymer PFAS’s for use in FCMs, including 20 PFASs to impart oil, grease, and/or water resistance.
To conclude, food contact materials (FCMs) consist of perfluoronated chemicals (PFCs) -alternativey called PFASs. They’re used because they are highly resistant to degradation, as well as their water-, stain- and oil-resistant properties.
These chemicals make their way into food and there are numerous concerns of adverse health effects, including kidney cancer, and ADHD. Exposure to PFASs is especially relevent for kids since 1/3 of U.S. children consume fast food daily (Vilkraman et al., 2015).
Schaider et al., 2017 collected over 400 FCM samples from various fast food restaurants in the United States. 33% had dectedable fluorine levels above the U.S. standards of 30µg of F/dm2. However, this standard is undeniably greater than the Danish standard of .35µg of F/dm2. With that said, all of the samples tested had detectable levels of fluorine.
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