Paper straws toxic chemicals make them worse than plastics, study says
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Paper straws toxic chemicals make them worse than plastics, study says

Aug 06, 2023

Not a fan of those paper straws that have replaced disposable plastic ones in the name of being eco-friendly? As it turns out, some of those efforts to save the environment may have been in vain.

A new study, published Thursday in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants, found evidence of “forever chemical” PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in the majority of both paper and bamboo straws tested.

Scientists in Belgium tested 39 brands of straws made of paper, bamboo, plastic and stainless steel found in shops, supermarkets and restaurants across the country.

Of the straws tested, almost all contained some concertation of PFAS, which are often used during manufacturing to make products water resistant. Out of the total 39 tested, the chemicals were detected in 27, none of which were stainless steel.

Paper straws, on the other hand, were the most likely to contain PFAS, with 18 out of 20, or 90%, of paper brands testing positive. They were also found in four out of five bamboo straws, three out of four plastic straws and two out of five glass straws.

Eighteen different PFAS were detected in total, though overall in low concentrations. The chemical most commonly found, however, was perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which was banned globally in 2020.

“These ‘eco-friendly’ plant-based straws are not necessarily a more sustainable alternative to plastic straws,” said the study’s conclusion, “because they can be considered as an additional source of PFAS exposure in humans and the environment (e.g. after degradation in landfills or through incomplete incineration).”

The study also discovered PFAS that are known to be highly water soluble, meaning they have the potential to bleed from the straw into a drink, but did not investigate this component further.

The researchers proposed that, while manufactures could intentionally be coating their plant-based straws in chemicals to make them water-repellent, the presence of PFAS could also be attributed to contaminated soil or an unintended consequence of material recycling. The authors suggested further analysis and studies be conducted to determine the primary source of contamination in the straws and how the chemicals may impact drinks and people consuming them.

This Belgian study comes on the heels of a 2021 U.S. study, which found the presence of 21 PFAS in paper and other plant-based straws versus no measurable amounts in plastic ones.

While PFAS were present in most straws tested, the low concentration, paired with the limited extent to which people use straws, means they don’t pose an immediate risk to humans.

Small amounts of PFAS are not harmful in and of themselves, but rather their ability to build up over time, including in the human body, is what poses the most risk. Even with these findings, plant-based straws are still better for the environment than straight-up plastics.

As stainless-steel straws are reusable long-term and all tested PFAS-free, the study authors suggest the use of these straws for bother environmental and health-related reasons.

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PFAS stands for “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” and refers to a collection of long-lasting chemicals that take a very long time to slowly break down in the environment.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFAS are widely used and persist for long periods of time in the environment, meaning they are found in the blood of people and animals around the world, as well as air, water, soil and in low levels in foods, packaging and household products.

While scientists are still working to determine the extent to which PFAS impact us, animals and our environment, they are already associated with a list of health concerns.

According to the EPA, PFAS have been linked to:

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According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), PFAS can be found in hundreds of products we use daily. In some cases, they are approved for use in limited amounts by the FDA, such as in food packaging.

They are commonly found in:

PFAS found in drinking water:Eye drop recall: