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Majority of PFAS used in F&B packaging unregulated and untested for health hazards, reveals study

#Majority of PFAS used in F&B packaging unregulated and untested for health hazards, reveals study

21 Mar 2024 — New research has revealed that 90% of the PFAS chemicals in food packaging are not included in any regulatory or industry inventories used during chemical manufacturing. The findings also show that hazard data is available for only 57% of the PFASs detected in F&B packaging.

Conducted by scientists at the Food Packaging Forum Foundation in Switzerland, the research has strengthened calls for a blanket ban on PFAS chemicals, which number around 13,000. For PFASs for which toxicity testing has been performed, many adverse outcomes have been discovered.

The data and knowledge gaps now shown highlight that the dangers posed to consumers may be far higher than previously thought.

Jonatan Kleimark, senior chemicals and business advisor to ChemSec, tells Packaging Insights: “It has been said a lot of times, but it seems like we need to repeat it endlessly: PFAS is everywhere. With the present situation, it is impossible to avoid PFAS contamination, and in combination with the persistence, which means they will not disappear, it is really a disastrous combination.”

Innova Market Insights pegged “Breakthrough Barriers” as a top trend for 2024, noting that the movement away from plastics and toward fiber-based solutions has created a challenge in replicating grease moisture protection and shelf life without using harmful chemicals.

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Blanket bans, partial bans
Given that only certain types of PFAS have been proven harmful, some argue that restrictions should only apply to those tested.

However, Kleimark says another approach is needed. “We have tried to ban certain types of PFAS. PFOA, PFOS and PFHxS are controlled under Persistent Organic Pollutants (C9-C14) regulations, which are restricted in the EU. But trying to regulate a family of substances, where all of them have similar properties, one by one, is bound to be very ineffective — and that has led to the situation we have now.”

“We need another approach, where we regulate these substances as a group, making it more difficult to do regrettable substitution. And it is worth pointing out that the restriction of PFAS proposed in the EU is not a blanket ban; there are derogations for the uses where we do not have alternatives today, so it is a reasonable way forward to reduce exposure to these chemicals.”

PFAS has been linked to a number of serious health conditions including cancer.When it comes to finding hazard data for the remaining 43% of PFASs detected in F&B packaging, Kleimark also says legislators have neither the time nor the money to wait on results.

“Gathering data for each and everyone of these substances will only take time, cost huge amounts of money, and be extremely ineffective. With the proposed ban, we will also get a predictability for industry, which I think is very positive.”

Study findings
While PFAS is widely known to cause damage to human and environmental health, information about contamination in food packaging is scattered.

The researchers systematically mapped evidence on PFASs detected in migrates and extracts of food contact materials and provided an overview of available hazard and biomonitoring data.

Based on the FCCmigex database, 68 PFASs were identified in various food contact materials, including paper, plastic and coated metal, by targeted and untargeted analyses.

Eighty-seven percent of these PFASs belong to the perfluorocarboxylic acids and fluorotelomer-based compounds, meaning trends in chain length demonstrate that long-chain perfluoroalkyl acids continue to be found, despite years of global efforts to reduce the use of these substances, according to the researchers.

The team then used the Toxicological Priority Index and found that only 57% of PFASs had relevant data available.

Kleimark says that enforcing an effective ban on PFAS is a challenge since a restriction also includes imported goods.

“There is clear evidence of the environmental and human health impact of these chemicals. And the persistence, as mentioned before, ensures that the concentrations will continue to increase unless we act.”

By Louis Gore-Langton

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