Thursday, March 24, 2022

Dangerous PFAS Chemicals Are in Your Food Packaging – Consumer Reports

Identifying the exact type of PFAS in a product is complex: There are more than 9,000 known PFAS, yet common testing methods can identify only a couple dozen.

So CR tested products for their total organic fluorine content, which is considered the simplest way to assess a material’s total PFAS content. That’s because all PFAS contain organic fluorine, and there are few other sources of the compound, says Graham Peaslee, PhD, a professor of physics, chemistry, and biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who has studied PFAS in food packaging. 

Another complication: PFAS is used so widely—found in ink on food containers, recycled paper, machines that make packaging, and more—that it often shows up in products unintentionally

Scientists and regulators are still debating what level of organic fluorine indicates intentional use. California has banned intentionally added PFAS; starting in January 2023, paper food packaging must have less than 100 parts per million organic fluorine. Denmark has settled on 20 ppm as that threshold. CR’s experts support the 20-ppm limit. 

“If they can get to 100 ppm, they should be able to get to 20 ppm,” Peaslee says. “Lower is always the ultimate goal.”

CR tested multiple samples of 118 products and calculated average organic fluorine levels for each. Overall, CR detected that element in more than half the food packaging tested. Almost a third—37 products—had organic fluorine levels above 20 ppm, and 22 were above 100 ppm. 

Among the 24 retailers we looked at, nearly half had at least one product above that level, and most had one or more above 20 ppm. But almost all also had products below that amount. For example, while the two products with the highest average levels came from Nathan’s, the chain also had four products below 20 ppm. Nathan’s told CR that it was redoing its packaging and had eliminated the high-level items, as did Chick-fil-A, which had the item with the next highest level in CR’s tests.

CR’s test results are not representative of all the packaging from a retailer, and the packaging may have changed since CR conducted these tests.

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