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Forever Chemicals Health Risk from Food You Love?

Hadley’s intro:  What’s the link between forever chemicals and fast food?  How does this link impact your health and our environment?  Get insights in a guest post by Consumer Reports courtesy of WashingtonPost

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with any advertisers on this site.

Recent Consumer Reports tests of more than 100 food packaging products from U.S. restaurants and supermarkets found dangerous PFAS chemicals in many of the products, including paper bags for french fries, wrappers for hamburgers, molded fiber salad bowls and single-use paper plates.

Previous CR tests found PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — in drinking water and bottled water.

That’s concerning, as growing research documents that PFAS, which are added to many materials to make them resistant to grease, water and stains, have led to environmental contamination around the globe and raised questions about their health risks when they accumulate in our bodies.

How we’re exposed to them

One of the main concerns about PFAS is how long they last. They are often called “forever chemicals” because they break down extremely slowly, if ever

That persistence, combined with the many products that now contain PFAS, means that there are many ways the chemicals can enter the environment and eventually reach humans, too.

‘Forever chemicals’ upended a Maine farm — and point to larger problem

Consider, for example, the production of food packaging with PFAS coating. In Maine, wastewater sludge from mills where such products are produced has reportedly been used to fertilize fields where cattle graze. In 2020, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry tested milk from dairy farms and found levels of one particular PFAS in a sample from a farm that were more than 150 times higher than state regulations permit.

When food packaging contains PFAS, some of those chemicals can migrate into food. Other products such as stain-resistant carpets can leave PFAS in household dust and air.

And finally, once food packaging or other products containing PFAS are thrown away, PFAS can leach out from landfills or spread from incinerators into the environment, where they can contaminate soil, food, water and air — just like they can when they are first produced.

People may then eat food containing the chemicals, drink water that contains them or even breathe in the chemicals.

And a growing number of the chemicals have been linked to a variety of health problems.

PFAS and health

For decades, PFAS manufacturers have had information indicating that the chemicals may harm human health, according to reporting from the Environmental Working Group. But for the first 60 or so years that PFAS were in production, many people thought that potential harms were specific to workers exposed to the chemicals at an industrial scale, not the general public.

Lake Superior’s forever chemicals

Then, in 1998, a West Virginia farmer named Wilbur Tennant started raising concerns about the effects that pollution from a nearby DuPont factory had on his cattle. This helped lead to a class-action lawsuit alleging that this contamination — with the PFAS chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8 — could be affecting the approximately 70,000 people who got water from the same polluted source.

The resulting settlement led to the creation of the C8 science panel, which between 2005 and 2013 assessed links between exposure to PFOA and a number of diseases, and found probable links between exposure and thyroid disease, higher cholesterol levels, kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, and pregnancy-induced hypertension. Other research on various PFAS has found links to liver damage and kidney disease.

Preserving your health and happiness,

Hadley Finch

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