Plastic food wrappers and containers contain chemicals that cause cancer, infertility and genetic mutations


Zürich, Switzerland – Plastic food wrappers and containers can contain hundreds of chemicals that increase the risk of developing cancer, infertility and genetic mutations, a new study warns.

The packages contained 388 individual ‘substances of concern’, including 352 known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic to reproduction – which scientists call CMRs. Another 22 were hormone or endocrine 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 that are hazardous to human health can leach into food under actual conditions of use, making it highly susceptible to human exposure.

The study refutes the common assumption that ingredients for manufacturing plastic polymers do not migrate from the finished packaging.

“Our study provides scientific evidence that hundreds of harmful chemicals are used legally in FCMs in Europe today, and that people are ingesting these dangerous chemicals with their food,” says lead author Dr Jane Muncke. , managing director of the Food Packaging Forum in Zurich, according to a statement from SWNS.

“Here we present a ready-made list of priority chemicals that should be immediately eliminated from use in food contact materials by decision makers.”

chemical package
(Credit: Hazardous Materials Journal)

Dozens of chemicals seeping into food

The Swiss team has compiled List of Food Contact Chemicals of Concern (FCCoC) by rigorously analyzing those used in packaging. It will contribute to the implementation of the European Farm to Fork Initiatives and the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. Additionally, prioritization allows manufacturers and researchers to improve consumer safety.

“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 chloride of vinyl that is used to produce the polymer polyvinyl chloride,” the researchers write in the Hazardous Materials Journal.

“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. .”

“Importantly, 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,” the team writes. .

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.

“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 considered harmful by CSS and should be phased out of FCMs,” continue the authors of the study.

“These FCCoCs include CMRs, EDCs, chemicals with persistent bioaccumulation or persistent mobility hazards, and chemicals included in the REACH SVHC list due to their target organ toxicity. specific”

1 in 3 plastic products contain food

Estimates put global plastic production at around 367 million metric tons in 2020, with more than a third food-related. There are concerns that chemicals will leach into food and the environment during manufacture, use, disposal and recycling.

“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,” the researchers write in their report.

“Of these, 135 have been classified by ECHA as category 1 carcinogens, which recognizes them as known or suspected human carcinogens based on evidence from humans or well-performed 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,” they add.

“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 resistant and plasticizers to increase flexibility, colorants, and adhesives.

“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 authors conclude. ‘study.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.


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