Disposable food packaging, crockery in paper, cardboard or molded vegetable fibers like fast food offers us to take our hamburgers or our pizzas, we can find perfluorinated in many everyday objects. Perfluoroalkyls, PFAS as they are called, are a toxic chemical family that includes nearly 4,500 distinct compounds.
Very practical, very useful to industry for their non-stick properties (as in our Teflon pans), waterproof (as in our rain gear in Gore-tex) or stain-resistant (for the textiles of our stain-resistant tablecloths), PFAS are said to be eternal because they are unfortunately very persistent in the environment, difficult to eliminate especially when they are used in large quantities in single-use packaging, for example in fast food restaurants. They can then accumulate throughout the food chain.
Food contact packaging samples in six European countries
Nine European NGOs, including HEAL (Health and Environment Alliance) an environmental association based in Brussels, wanted to know if they were used a lot, they carried out the survey in 6 European countries (in Germany, in Czechia, in France , Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) to find out whether their use was widespread in food packaging and disposable tableware.
Natacha Cingotti, head of the chemical substances program at HEAL, explains the investigation in detail: “We collected packaging samples from six countries and sent them to the same laboratory. The tests were done in two stages. We first measured the total organic fluorine content, this is the indicative test used. to find out the overall content of fluorinated substances. “
3 out of 4 contain perfluorinated substances
And to continue: “Out of 42 samples, 32 were found for which the fluorinated content indicated that there had been intentional treatment of PFAS. All had traces but not all were treated voluntarily, contamination probably took place at a moment in the production line. In any case, we found traces everywhere. “
PFAS are therefore a very large family of substances, but only two of them are banned internationally (PFOA and PFOS), but there are many others that could also be harmful. It must be said that at present, we still cannot individually detect the 4500 compounds listed. The analytical methods are only developed for some of them. Our environmental expert explains: “In our survey on food packaging, we individually searched for 55 of these perfluorinated substances the most used by manufacturers. We did not find the two prohibited PFAS. What is especially interesting is that we were able to see their global presence during the first test but that we were able to detect individually only 1% (55 compounds only out of the 4,500). “
The means to individually detect the 4500 PFAS are lacking
In other words, it is not known exactly what the exact substance is in the packaging. At the same time, scientific studies are multiplying. They would show that the concentrations of these perfluorinated in the environment or in humans keep increasing. These very persistent compounds are difficult to remove and apparently the analytical means to detect or measure them are lacking. We are not equipped to know what exact compound we are dealing with, deplores Natacha Cingotti.
4 of these PFAS found in all blood samples in 2015 in Liège
Catherine Pirard is a chemist at the toxicology laboratory of the University Hospital of Liège, she confirms that there is a whole series of fluorinated alternative products to the two banned (PFOS and PFOA), for which we have much less information on toxicity. but which remain authorized: “In 2015, we conducted a study in the province of Liège. 242 adults were recruited. We took urine samples for other substances and blood to measure certain perfluorinated compounds. Four of these substances were found in everyone including the two most dangerous, today, banned. “
And to add: “We probably all have them in our bodies. This does not mean that there will be effects on our health. But for the two banned substances, experts have established concentrations above which there can be a harmful effect. on health. Half of the samples contained these levels above the reference. It is very disturbing. “
There could be fertility issues, low birth weight babies, fat metabolism disorders, and even immunity issues after vaccination.
However, these are compounds that we are no longer supposed to encounter since they are prohibited but they remain very present in the environment, and we probably continue to contaminate ourselves. And since they are persistent, they accumulate, we accumulate them all our life even if we are no longer exposed to them. “There could be fertility issues, low birth weight births, fat metabolism disorders and even immunity issues after vaccination.“, concludes our chemist.
The industry substitutes the two perfluorinated substances banned by others from the same large family. Natacha Cingotti thinks it’s a real problem: “There are products that have been talked about a lot, for example bisphenol A in baby bottles. It was banned, and the industry has adapted, it replaced it with Bisphenol S. However, we have just realized that it was even more toxic than bisphenol A. This is why Europe is working today on a group-wide regulation and restriction of PFAS to strictly essential uses rather than banning them one by one. “
Denmark has banned all PFAS in food packaging. In the investigation, similar packaging was collected in the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and Denmark from the fast food chain, McDonald’s. Only Danish packaging did not contain any trace of PFAS. Maybe we could do without it?