Short Use, Yet Long Life: New Study Highlights Persisting PFAS Treatment In Common Consumer Products

It’s worth noting that certain everyday products that U.S. consumers encounter frequently may still be treated with PFAS. That’s the focus of a recent study.  The study, conducted by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and Toxic-Free Future, screened various retailer’s food-contact materials (i.e., take-out containers, bakery or deli paper, single-use plates) for the presence of suspected PFAS treatment. Although a small sample size, the study found that 5/8 (or about 63 percent) of take-out containers that they had collected from different stores in many states exhibited levels of fluorine that indicate “likely PFAS treatment.”

The report, entitled Take Out Toxics: PFAS Chemicals in Food Packaging, indicates that several types of PFAS can be used to treat paper to make it water and grease resistant, but the most commonly used “are believed to be the “side-chain polymers,” so-called because they have a carbon-based backbone with fluorinated side chains.” These polymers are known to degrade during and after use because the side chains are able to detach and become “highly persistent, highly mobile toxic compounds” that we often report on as being prevalent in many of our drinking water sources. The chain of events, referred to as the “PFAS factory effect,” describes how these polymers are a source of problematic compounds in the food we eat (or the packaging that carries the food) and then become a long-term source of contamination in the environment.

The underling concern is the impact to our nation’s water supply.  It’s estimated that water sources for about 6 million people in the U.S. are contaminated with PFAS at levels exceeding the EPA’s recommended standards. Therefore, these food packages that we often purchase and discharge find their way into the environment, further adding to this developing problem. The report correctly describes the enigma as one that has a “short use” (eating the food and discharging the packaging) but a “long life” (the chemicals persist in the environment).

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