Forever chemicals found in Canadian fast food packaging, study shows – National

Harmful “forever chemicals” have been detected in fast food packaging in Canada — for the first time — according to a new study.

The research published Tuesday in the Environmental Science & Technology Letter found evidence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in dozens of samples of take-out containers collected from fast food restaurants in Toronto.

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Among the 42 samples collected in August 2020, there was evidence of the use of PFAS in about half of them and a further deep dive of eight products confirmed the presence of the toxic chemicals, said Miriam Diamond, a professor in the department of earth sciences and the school of environment at the University of Toronto.

The analysis suggested that paper bags and compostable options that are considered greener alternatives might be causing harm to the environment and people’s health.

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“The highest concentrations (of PFAS) were in the moulded fiber bowls — those bowls where you might get a salad or burrito,” said Diamond, who co-authored the study.

For years, scientists have raised concerns about the use of PFAS, which are associated with a number of health hazards, in consumer products.

Click to play video: 'UBC develops water treatment system to remove ‘forever chemicals’'

UBC develops water treatment system to remove ‘forever chemicals’

PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” are a group of thousands of long-lasting, human-made chemicals that are used in textiles, cosmetics, furniture, paints, firefighting foams, food packaging and other commonly used consumer products.

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They are used as repellants for dirt, water and grease, which is why they are found in waterproof clothing and personal care products.

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Exposure to certain PFAS is associated with reproductive, developmental, endocrine, liver, kidney and immunological effects, according to Health Canada.

PFAS can also alter cholesterol levels and decrease the efficacy of vaccines, while some studies have also suggested that high levels of exposure could lead to Type 2 diabetes, Diamond said.

Lower fertility and birth weight are among “a whole range of harmful effects,” she added.

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According to Health Canada’s website, people are exposed to PFAS “mainly through food, drinking water and house dust.”

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To lower human exposure, the government of Canada has prohibited certain types of PFAS, such as PFOS, PFOA, long-chain perfluorocarboxylic acids (LC-PFCAs), their salts and precursors.

Under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, Health Canada “prohibits the sale of foods in packages that may impart any substance to the contents which may be harmful to the consumer of the food.”

While it is the food seller’s responsibility to ensure the safety of packaging material, manufacturers are required to provide specifics on the materials used to package infant formula, foods for special dietary use and novel foods, the agency states.

Click to play video: 'UBC develops water treatment system to remove ‘forever chemicals’'

UBC develops water treatment system to remove ‘forever chemicals’

Health Canada has also established drinking water guidelines for PFOS, PFOA and screening values for nine other PFAS.

Global News reached out to Health Canada with questions about the study’s findings but has not yet received a response.

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Diamond said Canada needs better regulation and transparency, pointing to the examples of the United States and Europe.

In the U.S., several states have already passed legislation restricting the use of PFAS in food packaging and the Environmental Protection Agency is also proposing the first federal limits on “forever chemicals” in drinking water.

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The European Union (EU) is considering similar legislation to prohibit the entire class of PFAS. In Denmark, PFAS-containing cardboard and paper in food packaging are banned.

“I want to see the Canadian government move towards restricting PFAS as a class from products in which the use of PFAS is non-essential,” Diamond said.

The corporate sector also needs to take responsibility and remove PFAS from their use, she added.

“Half of the packaging we tested did not have PFAS, so we know there are alternatives, but the food packaging industry should move away faster from the use of PFAS.”

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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