Read the full article by Elizabeth Gribkoff (Environmental Health News)
“After a much-publicized study this year found high levels of a toxic chemical class in food wrappings, many of us are eyeing that pizza or to-go salad in a new light.
Experts warn, though, that we shouldn’t just be concerned about exposure from packaged food. The compounds, PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, appear to be widespread in our food supply . PFAS have contaminated dairy and beef farms in Maine and Michigan, and recent testing from the consumer wellness site Mamavation found evidence of the compounds in organic pasta sauces, canola oils and nut butters.
But little is known about how much PFAS Americans are eating. In contrast to drinking water, which is extensively studied, ‘we have only anecdotal evidence for understanding (other) PFAS exposure sources for the U.S. general population,’ Elsie Sunderland, a professor of environmental chemistry at Harvard University, testified to the federal House Committee on Science, Space and Technology at the end of 2021.
Advocates and some researchers say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to test for and regulate PFAS in food are inadequate, and the agency has likely underestimated health risks from our routine exposure.
More broadly, because PFAS can get into food in many ways, the issue ‘further highlights the need to stop creating and emitting PFAS globally,’ Courtney Carignan, an exposure scientist and environmental epidemiologist at Michigan State University, told EHN.
PFAS in food
PFAS, a group of more than 9,000 man-made compounds, are known for their ability to repel water and oil and withstand high heat. These properties have made them useful in products ranging from firefighting foam to makeup to nonstick pans — and mean they take a long time to break down in the environment and in our bodies, earning them the moniker ‘forever chemicals.’
This longevity is problematic because some PFAS have been linked to certain kinds of cancer, heart disease, liver damage, lowered vaccine effectiveness, lower birth weights and other health effects. PFAS do ‘a really good job at crossing the placenta,’ Stephanie Eick, an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at Emory University, told EHN, adding that prenatal exposure to PFAS has been linked to cardiac issues and other problems later in life. Evidence is mounting that some newer PFAS are likely unsafe as well.
The European Union, which has more extensive PFAS testing and regulation than the U.S., has set a low combined suggested weekly food limit for four types of PFAS, estimating that most exceed this safety threshold. The U.S., meanwhile, only has drinking water health advisories for two PFAS compounds.
PFAS can get into the food we eat in a number of ways, from leaching off of food packaging coatings to contamination on farms. In a recent analysis, the Environmental Working Group estimated that the common practice of spreading sewage sludge for fertilizer could have contaminated up to 20 million acres of U.S. croplands with the forever chemicals.
Eick said it’s ‘very clear’ from past studies that eating fish, which can concentrate pollutants found in the water they swim in and in the prey they eat, has been linked to higher PFAS levels.
Although the evidence is not as strong as for fish and shellfish, Eick said eggs, certain kinds of meat, especially liver and other organ meats and dairy products have also been found to have higher levels of longer chain PFAS in particular. EU scientists have also warned that fruit can contain elevated levels of PFAS.
Food packaging, especially for take-out food, has come under a lot of scrutiny lately as PFAS are commonly used to help grease- and water-proof containers, bags and bakery papers. A seminal study from 2019 found that people who on a daily basis ate microwaved popcorn, which generally comes in coated bags, had ‘significantly higher’ PFAS blood levels, while regularly eating fast food and pizza also tended to be linked to higher PFAS levels. Overall, the risk from eating processed food is not quite as clear yet as eating a contaminated fish because the chemicals have to migrate from the packaging onto the food, noted Eick.
The microwaved popcorn study and others have found that some of the highest PFAS concentrations detected in humans were PFOA and PFOS — two older generation PFAS that are banned in Europe and have been phased out by U.S. manufacturers.
‘It is still a major problem, even though we know that they have been phased out’ said Eick, who conducted a study that found elevated levels of those and other older PFAS in pregnant people who ate fish and other animal products.”…