By Dave Andrews, Senior Scientist, and Bill Walker, Managing Editor


Scientists from nonprofit research organizations including EWG, federal and state regulatory agencies and academic institutions[†] collaborated to test samples of sandwich and pastry wrappers, french fry bags, pizza boxes, and other paper and paperboard from 27 fast food chains and several local restaurants in five regions of the U.S. They found that of the 327 samples used to serve food, collected in 2014 and 2015, 40 percent tested positive for fluorine.

The presence of fluorine does not automatically indicate the presence of PFCs. But authors of the study include an Environmental Protection Agency expert who, in further tests of a smaller number of samples, found that the vast majority of materials he tested contained known PFCs. He also found that some samples showed traces of the former Teflon chemical PFOA, which, the most current research shows, is harmful at extraordinarily small doses.

PFOA is a type of PFC the Food and Drug Administration has banned from food contact papers while continuing to allow the use of newer chemicals with a slightly different chemical structure. Manufacturers claim the next-generation chemicals are less hazardous because they are built on a chain of six or fewer carbon atoms rather than eight, so they pass from the human body faster. But manufacturers lack evidence that they are really much, if at all, safer.

The FDA has approved 20 next-generation PFCs specifically for coating paper and paperboard used to serve food. These chemicals have not been adequately tested for safety, and trade secrecy laws mean that, in some cases, the limited safety data submitted to the EPA does not publicly disclose the identity of the specific chemicals or even the companies submitting them for approval. But what little information manufacturers have provided to regulators is troubling.

In documents filed with the EPA, DuPont reported that a next-generation chemical used to produce food contact paper, called GenX, could pose a “substantial risk of injury,” including cancerous tumors in the pancreas and testicles, liver damage, kidney disease and reproductive harm.[1] In an investigation by the nonprofit news site The Intercept, retired EPA toxicologist and senior risk assessor Deborah Rice said GenX has “the same constellation of [health] effects you see with PFOA. There’s no way you can call this a safe substitute.


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