Food containers that are compostable might be leaching polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into the environment, detailed a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
Although composting can benefit soil health and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, compostable food packaging is created to be nonstick and waterproof, which involves the use of PFAS such as include PFSAs, PFCAs, fluorotelomer alcohols, polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters, fluorotelomer sulfonates and some polyfluorinated ethers.
The researchers from the American Chemical Society found that the PFAS used in food packaging were found to be leaching from the containers and into the compost.
Previous research on PFAS has linked long-chain PFAS such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) to negative health effects, motivating companies to switch to short chain PFAS.
Currently, there is not much research on the health effects of short chain PFAS.
The paper explains that PFAS end up in composted material because “some PFAS degrade microbially to persistent perfluoroalkyl acids, which include perfluoroalkyl sulfonic acids. Therefore, biological degradation processes in wastewater treatment plants and composting processes often lead to an increase in PFAA concentrations.”
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To understand impact of short-chain PFAS in compostable food packaging, the team from ACS took samples from five states—nine from commercial facilities and one from a backyard compost bin—to analyze the leachability of 17 perfluoroalkyl acids.
After extracting perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) from the samples and analyzing them using mass spectrometry, PFOA and PFOS were discovered in all of the samples.
Additionally, seven of the facilities that used compostable food packaging had higher levels—while the backyard compost bin had lower levels and did not use the packaging.
“The U.S. EPA is also reexamining PFAS risk assessments and health advisory levels/enforcement standards,” the paper concludes.
According to the paper, previous research also found that PFAAs have contaminated an increasing number of drinking water supplies.
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