Toxic PFAS chemicals newly discovered in Canadian food packaging

Toxic PFAS chemicals newly discovered in Canadian food packaging

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A new study conducted by the University of Toronto, Indiana University and University of Notre Dame has found that toxic PFAS "forever chemicals" are present in Canadian food packaging. The study, which was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, tested various types of food packaging from fast food restaurants (1).

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of chemicals commonly used in food packaging due to their non-stick and water-resistant properties. However, these chemicals are known to be harmful to human health, as they do not break down in the environment and can accumulate in the body over time.

The study involved collecting 42 paper-based wrappers and bowls from fast food restaurants and testing them for total fluorine, which is an indicator of PFAS. Additionally, they analyzed eight samples found to have high levels of total fluorine. Fiber-based molded bowls, which are typically sold as “compostable,” had PFAS levels three to 10 times higher than doughnut and pastry bags. The researchers also noted that some of the PFAS detected included the highly toxic 6:2 FTOH (6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol), which was the most abundant compound in the samples.

The findings of the study are concerning, as PFAS exposure has been linked to various health problems, including cancer, thyroid disease, and developmental issues in children. One of the study's co-authors, Dr. Miriam Diamond, emphasized the need for more research on the potential health effects of PFAS exposure from food packaging.

In response to the study's findings, Diamond is calling for calling for stronger regulations on PFAS in food packaging. “The use of PFAS in food packaging is a regrettable substitution of trading one harmful option—single-use plastics—for another. We need to strengthen regulations and push for the use of fiber-based food packaging that doesn’t contain PFAS,” says Diamond.


This new study underscores the urgent need for action on PFAS in food packaging. With PFAS being widely used in food packaging materials, consumers may unknowingly be exposed to these harmful chemicals through their food. Health experts are urging consumers to be aware of the potential risks and to seek out PFAS-free alternatives when possible.

As research on PFAS continues to grow, it is essential that regulatory agencies take action to protect public health from the harmful effects of these "forever chemicals."


(1) Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Canadian Fast Food Packaging. Heather Schwartz-Narbonne, Chunjie Xia, Anna Shalin, Heather D. Whitehead, Diwen Yang, Graham F. Peaslee, Zhanyun Wang, Yan Wu, Hui Peng, Arlene Blum, Marta Venier, and Miriam L. Diamond.
Environmental Science & Technology Letters. DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00926