Highly hazardous PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are leaching out of plastic containers and contaminating food products, according to research published in Environment Technology and Letters this month. The data confirm the results of prior research focused on the propensity of PFAS to contaminate various pesticide products through the storage containers. That data led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a warning over the potential for direct PFAS contamination of food. The current study, conducted by scientists at Notre Dame University, confirms these worst fears and shows that the containers of commonly used products like ketchup and mayonnaise are leaching out levels that post a threat to human health. “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 coauthor Graham Peaslee, PhD, professor of physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Notre Dame.
In breaking news on Tuesday, EPA is setting standards for two PFAS, PFOA and PFOS at no more than 4 parts per trillion in drinking water. While testing will be required, this measure is limited by its scope, requiring only monitoring of a few other PFAS compounds.
At issue are HDPE (high density polyethylene) containers, a type of plastic that may or may not be fluorinated prior to filling them with various materials. Fluorinating these containers “allows for cheaper and more efficient production of plastics that contain desirable properties, primarily increased barrier properties,” according to the study. In other words, fluoridation is being used to address the potential for gasses, water vapor, light and other factors that would impact the quality of product in the packaging. The material is as common as your milk jug and used to store a wide variety of substances – from foodstuffs to shampoo, motor oil, detergents and pesticides.
Using food samples retrieved from glass jars, scientists tested them by adding samples to both fluorinated and non-fluorinated HDPE containers. Scientists tested the amount of PFAS in these containers using plain water, methanol, and acetone as reference. And food samples added to both treated and untreated HDPE containers, including ketchup, olive oil, and mayonnaise were also analyzed for their PFAS levels. Further tests were conducted where containers and food were heated, to determine if that increased the effects. Testing methods employed a similar approach recently taken by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to measure PFAS in foods.
Results from even nonfluorinated containers represented a risk, ranging from 10 parts per trillion to 880 parts per trillion. Fluorinated containers hit between an astounding 45,120 and 94,810 ppt. These numbers include a summation of a range of PFAS analytes, including PFOA, PFDA, PFBA, and many others….