In this first comprehensive analysis of fast food packaging in the United States, we tested more than 400 samples from 27 fast food chains throughout the country for the presence of PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). These highly fluorinated chemicals are widely used in an array of non-stick products and have been linked with cancer, thyroid disease, and many other health problems. Reporting in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, we found that almost half of paper wrappers (e.g., burger wrappers and pastry bags) and 20 percent of paperboard samples (e.g., boxes for fries and pizza) contained fluorine—a marker of PFASs. Previous studies have shown that PFASs in food packaging can leach into food, raising concerns about potential health effects.
To find out how food packaging contributes to exposure to the hormone disrupting chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) and bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), we asked 20 adults and children to collect urine samples for us to test before, during, and after they switched to a fresh food diet with limited packaging or prepared food. The fresh food diet reduced their urine levels of BPA and DEHP by more than half in just three days. This study, conducted in collaboration with the Breast Cancer Fund and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, shows that food packaging is a major source of exposure to BPA and DEHP in children and adults.