The fast-food burger and fries you eat may be doing more than adding fat and calories to your body. According to scientists, the packaging they come in might be bad for you too.

Laurel Schaider, PhD, of the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Massachusetts reported that, of 407 fast-food packaging samples tested, 33% had detectable levels of fluorine, in a class of chemicals known as PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), known to cause numerous health problems.

Previous scientific research has linked PFASs with cancer, thyroid disease, immunotoxicity, low birth weight, and decreased fertility. Nearly half (46%) of paper wrappers tested, such as burger wrappers and pastry bags, and 20% of paperboard samples, such as boxes for fries and pizza, tested positive for fluorine.

Damaging Chemicals from Packaging Remain in Body

While PFASs are used in food packaging for their water- and grease-resisting properties, research has shown that they can leach into food, and once ingested can stay in the body for days, weeks, even years. Our bodies accumulate PFASs from many sources. Microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes as well as stain-resistant carpets and waterproof clothing may also contain PFASs.

As many as 80% of adults over the age of 29 eat fast food monthly, with about 50% eating fast food at least once a week. Of particular concern is the frequent exposure to these chemicals of children, whose developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals. Approximately one-third of U.S. children eat fast food every day.

PFASs Banned In US but Still Found in Packaging

Research samples high in fluorine showed various types of PFASs, including long-chain PFASs. Due to health concerns, long-chain PFASs were phased out in the U.S. from 2000-2015, though they are still manufactured in other parts of the world, and may be finding their way into current packaging through recycled paper.

Long-chain PFASs have shown increases in cholesterol and thyroid disease, and may also contribute to heart and kidney damage. Shorter-chain PFASs are now used as substitutes in packaging because they don’t stay in the body as long. There is some concern, however, that they may produce the same kind of effects observed with the longer chain chemicals years after the trace of exposure has disappeared.

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