Lead Author: Laurel Schaider,
Silent Spring Institute
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are highly persistent synthetic chemicals, some of which have been associated with cancer, developmental toxicity, immunotoxicity, and other health effects. PFASs in grease-resistant food packaging can leach into food and increase dietary exposure. We collected ∼400 samples of food contact papers, paperboard containers, and beverage containers from fast food restaurants throughout the United States and measured total fluorine using particle-induced γ-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy. PIGE can rapidly and inexpensively measure total fluorine in solid-phase samples. We found that 46% of food contact papers and 20% of paperboard samples contained detectable fluorine (>16 nmol/cm2). Liquid chromatography/high-resolution mass spectrometry analysis of a subset of 20 samples found perfluorocarboxylates, perfluorosulfonates, and other known PFASs and/or unidentified polyfluorinated compounds (based on nontargeted analysis). The total peak area for PFASs was higher in 70% of samples (10 of 14) with a total fluorine level of >200 nmol/cm2 compared to six samples with a total fluorine level of <16 nmol/cm2. Samples with high total fluorine levels but low levels of measured PFASs may contain volatile PFASs, PFAS polymers, newer replacement PFASs, or other fluorinated compounds. The prevalence of fluorinated chemicals in fast food packaging demonstrates their potentially significant contribution to dietary PFAS exposure and environmental contamination during production and disposal.