The results follow research published in 2017 by the Environmental Working Group in collaboration with academic researchers, federal and state regulatory agencies, and other nonprofit research organizations that tested hundreds of food wrappers, bags and boxes. In those earlier tests, 46 percent of the paper and 20 percent of the paperboard samples had detectable fluorine, a marker for deliberate PFAS usage, at a level attributed to intentional use.
In the recent tests by Consumer Reports, it is unclear what levels of PFAS indicate contamination and what is due to intentional use, but any use of PFAS is too much.
“The use of PFAS in food contact materials should end immediately and, because of the incredible toxicity of these chemicals, any detected contamination should be reduced as much as possible,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., EWG senior scientist.
PFAS are a large family of fluorinated chemicals linked to an increased risk of cancer, harm to fetal development, reduced vaccine effectiveness and other serious health problems. They are known as forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment and they build up in our organs.
Nearly everyone tested in the U.S. has PFAS compounds in their blood, with exposure from many sources, including food, water, consumer products and dust.
The Food and Drug Administration has known for decades about the potential for PFAS materials to cause health harm but has failed to act.
"There is no need to use PFAS in food packaging, and the FDA has not acted in the public interest,” said Melanie Benesh, EWG’s legislative attorney.
Fast food chains, the packaging industry and the FDA have all been slow to remove these chemicals from wrappers. In 2003, EWG sent letters to the CEOs of nine fast food chains asking them to stop using PFAS. Instead, most companies – in a process of regrettable substitution – switched from using one PFAS to another compound from the same family.
In June, EWG and other organizations petitioned the FDA to end all uses of PFAS in food packaging. The groups urged the FDA to study all routes of exposure to PFAS when considering whether the chemicals are safe for use in food.
“The law requires the FDA to take action to restrict PFAS in food packaging, unless manufacturers can show a reasonable certainty of no harm,” said Benesh. “The science clearly demonstrates that PFAS pose a significant risk of harm.”
Between 2002 and 2016, the FDA approved 19 PFAS for use in food packaging, despite increasing concerns about the health risks of PFAS exposure.
In 2020, the FDA announced that manufacturers of 15 different approved types of food packaging using PFAS would slowly phase out use its, but the FDA has not yet banned all PFAS from food packaging.
States have not been waiting for the FDA, and more than a dozen have adopted policies or regulations limiting the use of PFAS in food packaging, including seven states that have banned PFAS in packaging, and many more are considering taking similar steps.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.