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Study Goes After Fluorinated Grease-Proofing Agents in Paper

A recent publication of a study conducted by the Silent Spring Institute suggests that a substantial portion of the paper and paperboard used for fast food packaging contains PFAS (poly or perfluoroalkyl substances).  The study implicitly suggests that their presence in the packaging poses some safety or environmental concern. It has received extensive media attention.

The study, published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, purports to explore a newly-developed, rapid and inexpensive method for measuring fluorine in paper.  However, the underlying focus appears to be on the presence of fluorine in paper and a suggested correlation between fluorine in paper and PFAS content. However, the results of the study seem to suggest the opposite, i.e., that there is no substantial relationship between fluorine content and PFAS content.  The researchers did use LC/MS on a small sub-set of samples to identify PFAS in the paper. Although, the study failed to report any information as to the levels at which PFAS were detected.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), with which one of the study authors is affiliated, issued a press release on the study titled, “Many Fast Food Wrappers Still Coated in PFCS, Kin to Carcinogenic Teflon Chemical.” EWG also suggested that the 20 next-generation perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) cleared for coating paper and paperboard through the Food Contact Notification process have not been adequately tested for safety.

While the press coverage suggests a potential health concern for consumers based on this study, at least some of the news articles do reference a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokesperson who stated that FDA has carefully reviewed the science on short-chain compounds and hasn’t identified any safety concerns. 

For more information on the trials and tribulations facing the paper packaging industry both in the U.S. and abroad, sign up to attend Keller and Heckman's 2nd Annual Paper Packaging Law Seminar, to be held April 4-5, 2017 in Atlanta Georgia.