PFAS chemicals are dangerous to health, but they are still used in the production of food packaging. These substances are ubiquitous – scientists have found these chemicals in the human body and snow samples in uninhabited Antarctica. What is the risk to humans?
PFAS Food Packaging
Perfluorinated and polyfluorinated substances are invisible to the human eye. Practically “immortal” chemicals have been produced since the middle of the last century. Industries use them to repel water and grease from everyday items, including food packaging, outdoor clothing, or carpets.
The PFAS family has thousands of representatives. Man receives them mainly with water and food. Several European non-government organizations have analyzed 40 types of food packaging sold in the EU. The result showed that about 30 samples contained PFAS.
“In paper or cardboard packaging, these substances are used to protect against grease leakage, so that, for example, greasy stains do not form on the French fries bag or you do not rub your fingers. They, therefore, have a very limited benefit compared to the potential risk of penetrating the consumer’s body,” explains Francois Veillerette, spokesman for the NGO Génération Futures.
Health Risks of PFAS Exposure
According to INRAE research director and food toxicologist Muriel Mercier-Bonin, a pregnant woman may be exposed to these substances, and the fetus is also at risk during the prenatal period. In addition, Hervé Robert, a toxicologist at the University of Toulouse, points out cases of cancer, thyroid function, and a decrease in the effectiveness of the immune system.
These substances are most often found in food, bottled water, fish, fruit, eggs, and egg products. The European Food Safety Authority takes the risk seriously. Over the last ten years, it has reduced the PFAS acceptable limit in food packaging.
Food packaging producers do not yet comment much on the situation. The exception is Tetra Pak, which intends to phase out hazardous chemicals soon. However, other manufacturers may be required by law in the next decade, as the European Commission will discuss the possibility of a gradual ban on specific uses of PFAS as part of a significant overhaul of chemical legislation.