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Plastic containers may release forever chemicals into food

The University of Notre Dame has recently conducted a study to determine if products containing PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) could negatively impact human health. These substances make up a toxic class of fluorine compounds known as a “forever chemicals.”

The researchers tested fluorinated containers made with high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic. These containers are often used for household cleaners, pesticides, personal care products, and food packaging.  

The study revealed that, in as little as seven days of exposure, PFAS were able to migrate from the fluorinated containers into olive oil, ketchup, and mayonnaise. 

“Not only did we measure significant concentrations of PFAS in these containers, we can estimate the PFAS that were leaching off creating a direct path of exposure,” said study co-author Professor Graham Peaslee.

Exposure to PFAS has been associated with kidney, testicular, and prostate cancer, low birth weight, and thyroid disease.

The types of containers used in the study are not currently intended for food storage. However, there are no laws or government regulations to prevent such use. 

Moreover, PFAS could infiltrate our food sources indirectly if pesticides stored in these containers are used on crops. Furthermore, since PFAS are forever chemicals, there are multiple other potential paths to exposure. 

“We measured concentrations of PFOA that significantly exceeded the limit set by the EPA’s 2022 Health Advisory Limits,” said Peaslee. “Now, consider that not only do we know that the chemicals are migrating into the substances stored in them, but that the containers themselves work their way back into the environment through landfills. PFAS doesn’t biodegrade. It doesn’t go away. Once these chemicals are used, they get into the groundwater, they get into our biological systems, and they cause significant health problems.”

This study is published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

By Erin Moody, Staff Writer

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