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Another study is adding to the evidence that food packaging  is frequently coated  with harmful chemicals - called perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs. The chemicals are used because they resist grease and stains, but unfortunately they then leach into the food, and when people eat the food - it gets into them. The evidence is also growing that these chemicals have all sorts of harmful health effects, including endocrine disruption (they are hormone disruptors) - even in low doses. They are linked to kidney and testicular cancer, high blood cholesterol levels, thyroid problems, development and immune system problems, low birth weights, and decreased sperm quality. (See earlier post) The list keeps growing each year.

Researchers tested about 400 pieces of food packaging from 27 fast food chains,  including McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Chick-Fil-A, Quiznos, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts (see how they scored). Overall, about 33 percent of the packages contained fluorine (a chemical not found in paper, but is an indicator of perfluorinated chemicals present to make the packaging grease and stain resistant). What is even more disturbing is that when the researchers more closely examined 20 samples to find out exactly what fluorinated compounds they contained - they found that 6 of the more rigorously tested packages contained PFOA (which was used in Teflon). PFOA was phased out for use in the USA years ago due to it being so long-lasting in the environment and its serious health effects, but other countries still produce it. Unfortunately, even the replacement chemicals  seem to be similarly harmful (not surprising because of the chemical similarities), and they also persist in the environment.

It should be pointed out that perfluorinated chemicals are also used in products such as stain and water resistant coatings on clothing, upholstery, carpeting and floor waxes. They are in non-stick coatings in pots and pans. The chemicals leach or migrate out of products and degrade very slowly — thus showing up in air, household dust, water, dirt, wildlife, and people. Yes, studies show that almost everyone in the U.S. has these chemicals in their blood, and unfortunately some of them can stay in the body for years. PFCs pass from mothers to their babies during pregnancy, and in breast milk after birth. Exposure to perfluorinated chemicals from fast food packaging is of big concern for children, because one-third of U.S. children consume fast food daily, and children may be especially susceptible to the adverse health effects.

Yes, we are surrounded by a sea of harmful chemicals that are tough to avoid, but we should at least try to minimize our exposure. Fast food restaurants should be encouraged to use nontoxic alternatives (e.g., aluminum foil or wax paper) - after all, the study showed that there is packaging out there without these chemicals.

What can we do to avoid PFCs? 1) Try to avoid or eat less fast food and food that comes in "grease-proof" containers. 2) Don't use non-stick pots and pans - use stainless steel instead. 3) Try to avoid clothing, upholstered furniture, and carpets with stain and water-resistant coatings. 4) Don't use microwave popcorn bags, and try to avoid microwaving foods in their packaging - use a glass dish instead. 5) Don't use dental floss such as Oral-B Glide dental floss (uses PFC), and use unwaxed or natural wax floss instead. 6) Avoid personal care products that contain ingredients that include the words “fluoro” or “perfluoro". *Please check out the Environmental Working Group site for more information (here and here).

From Science Daily: Extensive use of fluorinated chemicals in fast food wrappers: Chemicals can leach into food

Americans may be consuming fast food wrapped in paper treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) -- the same chemicals used in stain-resistant products, firefighting materials and nonstick cookware, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Researchers tested more than 400 samples of packaging materials, including hamburger and sandwich wrappers, pastry bags, beverage cups and French fry containers, and found evidence of fluorinated compounds called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). Of the materials tested, these chemicals were found in 56 percent of dessert and bread wrappers, 38 percent of sandwich and burger wrappers and 20 percent of paperboard.

Previous studies have shown that these PFASs can migrate, contaminating the food and, when consumed, accumulating in the body....Previous studies have linked PFASs to kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease, low birth weight and immunotoxicity in children, among other health issues. The chemicals have an especially long half-life and take many years before just 50 percent of the intake leaves the human body. The results are concerning when considering the role of fast food in the American diet. The National Center for Health Statistics reported one-third of U.S. children consume fast food daily.

Samples were collected from a total of 27 fast food restaurant chains including McDonald's, Burger King, Chipotle, Starbucks, Jimmy Johns, Panera and Chick-Fil-A, in and around Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Grand Rapids, Michigan. The study did not include takeout containers, such as Chinese food boxes or pizza boxes. [Original study]

For years stores and manufacturers have promoted the advantages of Scotchgard and Teflon nonstick coatings for pots and pans, as stain-proofing for upholstered furniture and rugs, as a water repellent for clothing, for consumer goods such as dental floss, and for grease-proof food wrappers and containers. And yes, people have been convinced - with most cookware sold today being of the nonstick type, and the popularity of sofas and rugs coated with non-stain coatings. But once again, chemicals come with a price and health effects, and unfortunately these particular chemicals are found in all of us in varying levels.

Polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are a class of chemicals that are stain, water, and grease repellent chemicals.They have been found in the blood of more than 98% of the United States population. PFCs stay in the environment and body for many years (thus labeled as "persistent"). Some PFCs: perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, perfluorooctane sulfonate or PFOS, perfluorononanoic acid or PFNA, and perfluorohexane sulfonate or PFHxS.

PFOA was used to make DuPont's popular Teflon coating for decades. DuPont phased out its PFOA production after a settlement with federal regulators (it was linked it to birth defects and cancer in animals). But meanwhile PFOA spread worldwide, and traces of the compound have been found in most people, in polar bears in the Arctic, in some drinking water, and even in some fish. PFCs pass from mothers to their babies during pregnancy, and in breast milk after birth. They are considered hazardous even in small doses, they accumulate, and have been linked to all sorts of medical problems, from developmental delays in the fetus and child, to immune problems, kidney disease, kidney and testicular cancers, and to thyroid disease.

And once again, as some chemicals are phased out, the replacement chemicals may be just as bad. One group of replacement chemicals is perfluoroalkyl sulfonate (PFAS). Experts worry that this new group of PFASs has many of the same troubling characteristics as their predecessors, because of the chemical similarities with the original chemicals. But we won't know for years, because once again the necessary health tests have not been done.

What can you do to avoid PFCs? 1) Do not use Teflon or non-stick pots, pans, and utensils. Use stainless steel or cast iron instead. 2) Avoid Scotchgard or other stain-proofing or stain-resistant treatments on upholstered furniture or rugs. 3) Avoid jackets, rain gear, or other clothing with "water resistant" or "stain resistant" treatments. 4) Try to cut back on foods that come in "grease-proof" containers. Don't use microwave popcorn bags. 5) Don't use dental floss such as Oral-B Glide dental floss (uses PFC), and use unwaxed or natural wax floss instead (such as Toms of Maine floss). 6) Avoid personal care products that contain ingredients that include the words “fluoro” or “perfluoro.

From Medscape: Prenatal Exposure to Household Chemicals Hurts Kids' Cognition

Exposure to common household chemicals such as those found in nonstick cooking pans, upholstery, carpet pads, and electronics during pregnancy may lead to poorer cognitive and behavioral development during childhood, new research shows.

In an analysis of more than 250 mother-child pairs, maternal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) was associated with impairments in executive function in children aged 5 and 8 years. "These findings suggest that concentrations of maternal serum PBDEs and PFASs during pregnancy may be associated with poorer executive function in school-age children," the investigators, with first author Ann Vuong, DrPH,...."Given that the persistence of PBDEs and PFASs has resulted in detectable serum concentrations worldwide, the observed deficits in executive function may have a large impact at the population level," they add.

In-unit increases in PFOS levels were associated with worse behavior regulation, poorer metacognition, and poorer global executive functioning. No link was found between PFOA levels and executive function. Dr Vuong told Medscape Medical News that although the majority of PBDEs and PFASs have been phased out of products, there is an ongoing risk of exposure."It's in the environment, and probably it's that people have already purchased products within their homes, and everyone has [PBDEs] in their bodies. So the only way to reduce the body burden or exposure is through cleaning methods," she said.

For PBDEs, it is recommended that people regularly use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in their vacuum and that they wipe down surfaces and regularly wash their hands. "For PFASs, it's recommended that you try not to, or limit your use of, microwaved fast food packaging, as well as trying not to use deteriorated pans with nonstick coatings," Dr Vuong added....Although reducing exposure to substances with known neurodevelopmental and cognitive risks is important, Dr Vuong emphasized that the chemicals have been replaced by novel compounds, some of which may carry their own risks.

UPDATE: 2 new articles discussing this issue: New Teflon Toxin Causes Cancer in Lab Animals and How Dupont Concealed the Dangers of the New Teflon Toxin