New Study Calls for Mitigation, Monitoring of Common Grease-proofing Food Packaging Chemicals

Chemicals used to “grease proof” everything from food packaging to carpets have built up in the environment for decades and contaminate ecosystems across the globe, and a new study is calling for a better understanding of the risks posed by these chemicals

The study, published in the academic journal Trends in Food Science & Technology, collects the proceedings of a symposium chaired by an Iowa State University scientist and issued a call to action on the need for new and better ways to detect and mitigate this class of chemical compounds, collectively known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Evidence indicates exposure to high levels can lead to adverse health effects for humans and other species, and the study stresses the need for new ways to measure and study exposures to these synthetic chemicals from various sources including food.

PFAS accumulate in the environment and do not break down on their own. For instance, the compounds can contaminate waterways after leaching from products discarded in landfills, said Keith Vorst, director of the Polymer and Food Protection Consortium and an associate professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State. These entirely manmade chemicals have been used in a wide range of products since the 1940s, and some states have enacted legislation to restrict their use. But their ability to persist in the environment means the compounds that already exist can continue to contaminate the environment.

“They’re out there, we need to be aware of them, and it’s really hard to eliminate them,” Vorst said. “We need to work on mitigation strategies, and we need to be monitoring them and better understand the risks they pose.”

What are PFAS?

PFAS often have been used to coat food packaging as a barrier to keep grease from escaping. Vorst said paper wrappers on hamburgers are often coated in these compounds to prevent grease from leaking onto consumers’ hands. The compounds have also been used widely to coat carpets, in car interiors and in fire-fighting foams.

Some PFAS are no longer produced in the United States, but Vorst said more than 5,000 separate compounds qualify under this category, making it difficult for regulations to keep up with newly developed chemicals.

Studies have indicated that exposure to high levels of some of these chemicals can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA reports the most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, and studies have found limited evidence for links between high levels of certain PFAS and low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer and thyroid hormone disruption. (https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas)

Monitoring and mitigation

The new paper emerged out of a virtual symposium held in June of 2020 organized by the Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences. The symposium featured scientists, engineers and regulatory professionals from public, private and academic institutions. The symposium addressed science gaps for exposure routes, detection and quantification of PFAS in food. Speakers also noted that, based on limited data to date, there is little PFAS detected in food.

Polymer and Food Protection Consortium researchers Greg Curtzwiler, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, and Paulo Silva, adjunct assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, are working with Vorst in the laboratory to study potential mitigation strategies such as high voltage atmospheric cold plasma to change the chemistry of PFAS. This process could work by passing materials that contains PFAS, such as product packaging or even drinking water, through an engineered atmosphere to mitigate the compounds. The research team has tested the method and is working with Iowa State to patent the technology. Vorst’s PFPC lab has been testing new methodologies to detect and monitor PFAS levels in various environments as well. Much of this research was funded by the ISU Polymer and Food Protection Consortium.

“We’re looking at continuous monitoring of exposure limits,” Vorst said. “We’re trying to develop threshold limits for packaging and products. We’re also looking at how we can change these chemistries to get them out of the environment, make them less persistent or sequester them.”

Source: Iowa State University of Science and Technology

Study: Half of US Cosmetics Contain Toxic Chemicals

Matthew Daly wrote . . . . . . . . .

More than half the cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada are awash with a toxic industrial compound associated with serious health conditions, including cancer and reduced birth weight, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame tested more than 230 commonly used cosmetics and found that 56% of foundations and eye products, 48% of lip products and 47% of mascaras contained fluorine — an indicator of PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals” that are used in nonstick frying pans, rugs and countless other consumer products.

Some of the highest PFAS levels were found in waterproof mascara (82%) and long-lasting lipstick (62%), according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Twenty-nine products with higher fluorine concentrations were tested further and found to contain between four and 13 specific PFAS chemicals, the study found. Only one item listed PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, as an ingredient on the label.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates cosmetics, said the agency does not comment on specific studies. The FDA said on its website that there have been few studies of the presence of the chemicals in cosmetics, and the ones published generally found the concentration is at very low levels not likely to harm people, in the parts per billion level to the 100s of parts per million.

A fact sheet posted on the agency’s website says that, “As the science on PFAS in cosmetics continues to advance, the FDA will continue to monitor″ voluntary data submitted by industry as well as published research.

But PFAS chemicals are an issue of increasing concern for lawmakers who are working to regulate their use in consumer products. The study results were announced as a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to ban the use of PFAS in cosmetics and other beauty products.

The move to ban PFAS comes as Congress considers wide-ranging legislation to set a national drinking water standard for certain PFAS chemicals and clean up contaminated sites across the country, including military bases where high rates of PFAS have been discovered.

“There is nothing safe and nothing good about PFAS,″ said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who introduced the cosmetics bill with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “These chemicals are a menace hidden in plain sight that people literally display on their faces every day.″

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., who has sponsored several PFAS-related bills in the House, said she has looked for PFAS in her own makeup and lipstick, but could not see if they were present because the products were not properly labeled.

“How do I know it doesn’t have PFAS?” she asked at a news conference Tuesday, referring to the eye makeup, foundation and lipstick she was wearing.

The Environmental Protection Agency also is moving to collect industry data on PFAS chemical uses and health risks as it considers regulations to reduce potential risks caused by the chemicals.

The Personal Care Products Council, a trade association representing the cosmetics industry, said in a statement that a small number of PFAS chemicals may be found as ingredients or at trace levels in products such as lotion, nail polish, eye makeup and foundation. The chemicals are used for product consistency and texture and are subject to safety requirements by the FDA, said Alexandra Kowcz, the council’s chief scientist.

“Our member companies take their responsibility for product safety and the trust families put in those products very seriously,″ she said, adding that the group supports prohibition of certain PFAS from use in cosmetics. “Science and safety are the foundation for everything we do.”

But Graham Peaslee, a physics professor at Notre Dame and the principal investigator of the study, said the cosmetics poses an immediate and long-term risk. “PFAS is a persistent chemical. When it gets into the bloodstream, it stays there and accumulates,″ Peaslee said.

No specific companies were named in the study, although supporting material indicates that researchers tested dozens of brands, including many household names.

The study did not seek to link any health effects to cosmetics use, but Peaslee said researchers found PFAS levels that ranged from a few parts to billion to thousands of parts per billion. He called the latter totals “worrisome.″

The chemicals also pose the risk of environmental contamination associated with manufacturing and disposal, he said.

The man-made compounds are used in countless products, including nonstick cookware, water-repellent sports gear, cosmetics and grease-resistant food packaging, along with firefighting foams.

Public health studies on exposed populations have associated the chemicals with an array of health problems, including some cancers, weakened immunity and low birth weight. Widespread testing in recent years has found high levels of PFAS in many public water systems and military bases.

Blumenthal, a former state attorney general and self-described “crusader” on behalf of consumers, said he does not use cosmetics. But speaking on behalf of millions of cosmetics users, he said they have a message for the industry: “We’ve trusted you and you betrayed us.″

Brands that want to avoid likely government regulation should voluntarily go PFAS-free, Blumenthal said. “Aware and angry consumers are the most effective advocate” for change, he said.

Source: AP

100% of Breast Milk Samples Tested Positive for Toxic “Forever Chemicals”

A new study finding toxic chemicals in 100% of breast milk samples tested was published in Environmental Science & Technology. Scientists from Toxic-Free Future, Indiana University, the University of Washington, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute led the research, which shows that toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated substances)—including new generation compounds currently in use—build up in people. Despite chemical industry assurances that current-use PFAS do not build up in people, the study finds detections of these chemicals in breast milk to be on the rise globally and doubling every four years.

Previous reports have confirmed that companies put PFAS chemicals in a wide range of everyday products, from food packaging and clothing to carpet and upholstery. States and retailers are starting to take action to restrict these chemicals in products, but federal regulations are needed to prevent the use of PFAS or other chemicals that can build up in breast milk in consumer products.

This study, the first since 2005 to analyze PFAS in breast milk from mothers in the United States, found that 50 out of 50 women tested positive for PFAS, with levels ranging from 52 parts per trillion (ppt) to more than 500 ppt. Breast milk samples were tested for 39 different PFAS, including 9 current-use compounds. Results found that both current-use and phased-out PFAS contaminate breast milk, exposing nursing infants to the effects of toxic chemicals. A total of 16 PFAS were detected with 12 found in more than 50% of the samples. The levels of PFAS that are currently in use in a wide range of products are rising in breast milk.

“We now know that babies, along with nature’s perfect food, are getting toxic PFAS that can affect their immune systems and metabolism,” explains Toxic-Free Future science director and study co-author Erika Schreder. “We shouldn’t be finding any PFAS in breast milk and our findings make it clear that broader phaseouts are needed to protect babies and young children during the most vulnerable stages of life. Moms work hard to protect their babies, but big corporations are putting these, and other toxic chemicals that can contaminate breast milk, in products when safer options are available.”

“These findings make it clear that the switch to newer PFAS over the last decade didn’t solve the problem,” explains Dr. Amina Salamova, study co-author and associate research scientist at Indiana University. “This study provides more evidence that current-use PFAS are building up in people. What this means is that we need to address the entire class of PFAS chemicals, not just legacy-use variations.”

Chemical companies make PFAS chemicals for their stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proof properties. A growing body of scientific research has found links between exposures to PFAS and a wide range of health problems including a weaker immune system, cancer, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. Scientists are most concerned about the cumulative impact resulting from exposures to products, contaminated drinking water, and contaminated food.

“Exposures to PFAS can weaken our immune system, making a person more vulnerable to infectious diseases,” explains Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, study co-author and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “It is especially concerning to see exposures happening through bioaccumulation in breast milk, which then exposes a nursing child during a critical period of development.”

Currently, national regulations fail to prevent PFAS from being used in most products. While federal action lags, Washington state has created a precautionary approach that aims to phase out the use of harmful chemical classes like PFAS. Under the Safer Products for Washington Act, policymakers are identifying the products resulting in exposure to harmful chemicals and will move to restrict them when safer alternatives are found. Similarly, the European Union is following a precautionary approach, moving to adopt regulations to ban any uses of PFAS that aren’t needed or can be substituted. Several states have also banned specific PFAS uses, such as in food packaging and firefighting foam, and 18 retailers, including Taco Bell and McDonald’s, have now pledged to eliminate or reduce PFAS in food packaging, which impacts more than 77,000 stores worldwide.

“If a harmful chemical can end up in breast milk due to its persistence or ability to bioaccumulate, it should be prohibited in everyday products we are constantly exposed to,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future. “It’s time for more states and the federal government to follow the lead of Washington state and ban PFAS and other equally dangerous classes of chemicals in products, especially when safer alternatives are found. Prevention-based policies are critical to ending this harmful and unnecessary contamination of our most precious resources—from breast milk to drinking water.”

Some federal action is pending, with Rep. Debbie Dingell expected to re-introduce legislation to ban all PFAS in food packaging. “Rep. Dingell’s bill takes an important step forward to end a clearly unnecessary use of persistent, toxic PFAS. At the same time, Congress must take broader action to prevent the use of PFAS and other classes of harmful chemicals that can end up in breast milk,” said Liz Hitchcock, director of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families.

Some food retailers have taken actions that help reduce exposure to PFAS and demonstrate that alternatives are feasible. “We need swift actions from more retailers to help protect people from these toxic chemicals,” explains Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director. “We’ve seen more commitments than ever from retailers phasing out PFAS over the last two years, proving that change is possible and safer alternatives are accessible. Customers hold more power than they may realize—and companies are listening. Retailers like Burger King should take definitive action on PFAS and make sure their food packaging is free of harmful chemicals.”

The Mind the Store campaign and its partners have recently launched a petition to Burger King urging them to take action by committing to the elimination of PFAS in their food-packaging materials.

Dr. Sathyanarayana adds, “While we know that PFAS chemicals may be harmful, it is important to remember that breast milk provides significant benefits to newborn and child health. Breast milk is still best for newborns.”

Source: Safer Chemicals


Read also at Toxic Free Future:

Toxic Chemicals in Breast Milk – How we can solve this problem . . . . .

Video: There Are Chemicals in Your Drinking Water that Last Forever

Forever chemicals are used in everything from rain jackets to jet fuel. But the chemistry behind what makes them useful also makes them stick around in the environment and us…forever?

Watch video at You Tube (4:24 minutes) . . . . .

Study: PFAS Exposure May Cause Early Menopause in Women

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) exposure may cause menopause to occur two years earlier in women, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Known as ‘forever chemicals,’ PFAS are manmade and used in a wide variety of nonstick and waterproof products and firefighting foams. PFAS chemicals can contaminate drinking water, and it has been estimated that 110 million Americans (one out of three) may consume drinking water contaminated with these chemicals.

“PFAS are everywhere. Once they enter the body, they don’t break down and build up over time,” said the study’s lead author Ning Ding, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Because of their persistence in humans and potentially detrimental effects on ovarian function, it is important to raise awareness of this issue and reduce exposure to these chemicals.”

The researchers studied 1,120 midlife women from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, a 17-year-long prospective cohort study. They found that women with high PFAS levels in their blood samples reached menopause two years earlier than those with lower levels.

“Even menopause a few years earlier than usual could have a significant impact on cardiovascular and bone health, quality of life, and overall health in general among women,” said corresponding author Sung Kyun Park, Sc.D., M.P.H., of the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Source: Endocrine Society