Denmark will introduce a ban on perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in July next year due to the potential risks the chemicals pose to human health. The nation cites that the health risk is too great to wait for the EU to make a regulatory move on this front. Under the new regulation, all items, including food packaging, using PFAS chemicals must be reformulated without the “forever chemicals,” as their signature elemental bonds of fluorine and carbon are extremely strong and difficult to disintegrate in the environment and in living beings. These chemicals have been linked to a number of health risks such as cancer, elevated cholesterol and decreased fertility.
Because PFAS chemicals are used to repel grease and water in packaging materials, they are most commonly found in food contact materials such as baking paper, microwave popcorn bags, cardboard and paper. “I do not want to accept the risk of harmful fluorinated substances migrating from the packaging and into our food. These substances represent such a health problem that we can no longer wait for the EU,” says Mogens Jensen, Denmark's Food Minister, in a statement translated from Danish.
The Danish government has said the ban does not entirely exclude the use of recycled paper and other paper for food packaging, as long as PFAS compounds are separated from the food with a barrier that ensures that they don’t migrate into the food.
PFAS include chemicals known as PFOS, PFOA and GenX. Due to their ability to repel oil and water, PFAS have been highly utilized since the 1940s – not just in the foodservice industry, but also for paint, cleaning products and firefighting foams.
Their ubiquitous usage has led to widespread concern. Research has increasingly found that there are potential adverse health impacts associated with PFAS exposure, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer.
“We congratulate Denmark on leading the way for healthier food and hope this will encourage similar action across the EU, the US and worldwide,” says Arlene Blum of the Green Science Policy Institute and the Department of Chemistry at University of California, Berkeley, US.
Debates continue to rage on in reference to other dangerous substances present in packaging materials. Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to create plastics, was listed as toxic for human reproduction by the General Court of the EU this July.
The move means that BPA must be listed as a substance of “very high concern” on account of its properties that are toxic for human reproduction. BPA, is already banned in the EU for some products – such as baby bottles – due to concerns about its effects on the hormonal and reproductive system.
Some inks used for printing colored paper and cardboard for use in coffee cups, printed napkins and straws have also been identified to cause cancer and disrupt the hormone system, according to a study conducted this August.