According to new research, plastic food packaging and containers may contain hundreds of chemicals that cause cancer, infertility and genetic mutations.
The packages contained 388 individual “substances of concern”, including 352 known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic to reproduction, known as CMRs.
Another 22 were endocrine or hormone disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and 32 pose health hazards with persistence and “bioaccumulation”.
Peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated the presence of 127 of these molecules in food contact materials (MCAs).
Plastic particles or monomers known to be hazardous can be transferred to food under actual conditions of use, making them highly relevant for human exposure.
It refutes the common assumption that ingredients for manufacturing plastic polymers do not migrate from the finished packaging.
Lead author Dr Jane Muncke, Managing Director of the Food Packaging Forum in Zurich, Switzerland, said: “Our study provides scientific evidence that hundreds of harmful chemicals are used legally in FCMs in Europe. today, and people ingest these dangerous chemicals with their food.
“Here we present a ready-made list of priority chemicals that should be immediately eliminated from use in food contact materials by decision makers.”
The Swiss team compiled the list of chemicals of concern in contact with food (FCCoC) by rigorously analyzing those used in packaging. It will contribute to the implementation of the EU Farm to Fork initiatives and the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability.
Additionally, prioritization allows manufacturers and researchers to improve consumer safety.
Muncke said: “Among the 30 monomers included in the FCCoC list are well-known plastic monomers such as acrylamide which is polymerized into polyacrylamide, styrene used to make polystyrene, bisphenol A, a monomer in polycarbonate plastics, as well as vinyl chloride which is used to produce the polymer polyvinyl chloride.
“Of the 30 monomers with evidence of presence, 22 were detected to migrate into food or food simulants, demonstrating that monomers can transfer into food and become available for human exposure via ingestion of food. .
“It is important to note that the majority of monomers showing evidence of migration are CMRs (20), while four are EDCs and one monomer has risks related to persistence of bioaccumulation.”
Chemicals such as bisphenol A and a number of phthalates – used to increase the flexibility, transparency and durability of plastic – have been restricted in Europe due to their harmful properties.
Muncke said, “Our study shows that hundreds of hazardous chemicals may be intentionally used in FCMs.
“We have identified 388 FCCs that are of high concern due to hazardous properties that are considered harmful and should be phased out.
“These FCCoCs include CMRs, EDCs, chemicals with persistent bioaccumulation or persistent mobility hazards, and chemicals toxic to specific organs.”
Global production of plastics was estimated at 404 million tonnes in 2020, more than a third of which for food.
There are concerns that chemicals will leach into food and the environment during manufacture, use, disposal and recycling.
Muncke said: “Our study shows that a wide variety of CMRs are potentially used in food packaging. 352 CMRs have been listed for use in the manufacture of FCM.
“Of these, 135 have been classified as category 1 carcinogens based on evidence from humans or well-conducted animal studies.
“Among these FCCoCs are, for example, vinyl chloride monomer and 1,2-dichloroethane, both used for the production of PVC, styrene oxide used as a plasticizer or thinner for epoxy resins and 5-methyl-o -anisidine used in the manufacture of dyes.
“Another CMR listed for use in more than ten types of FCM is epichlorohydrin, which is used as a monomer for the production of epoxy resin but also listed for intentional use in several other FCMs including textiles, adhesives and printing inks. Epichlorohydrin is a suspected carcinogen.”
The identified hazardous chemicals are not only used as the main ingredient, or monomer, to produce the plastic packaging, but are also used for a range of functions ranging from biocides to prevent mold, flame retardants to increase resistance flame retardant and plasticizers to increase flexibility, colorants and adhesives.
Muncke added, “Chemicals included in the FCCoC list should be considered for immediate elimination from intentional use in FCMs, and finished FCAs should be reviewed for FCCoCs that may be present unintentionally.”
The study is in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.
This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.