Toxic chemicals in food packaging weaken immune system response to COVID-19
While so many Americans have taken every precaution to protect themselves and those around them from COVID-19 and to prevent serious illness if they become ill with the virus, there are many other factors in the daily lives of Americans that are beyond their control. it can actually make the effects of the novel coronavirus worse and more importantly make the vulnerable population more susceptible to the virus despite their best efforts to get vaccinated and strengthened and ensure they are masked and socially distanced from others.
Chemicals commonly found in consumer products have been proven to harm human health, but they are still legal in the United States. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which negatively affect human hormones, can exacerbate COVID-19 in particularly vulnerable people, but these endocrine-disrupting chemicals can be difficult for any American consumer to avoid. “Certain underlying chronic conditions associated with exposures to… [endocrine-disrupting] Chemicals (EDC) exacerbate the effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations,” confirmed the Health and Environment Collaborative.
PFAS (short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which are frequently found in food packaging and mass-produced products, such as cosmetics, are EDCs.
According to a June 2020 article in The Intercept, “Studies have shown that in adults and children, higher levels of certain PFAS chemicals were associated with poorer responses to vaccines. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the CDC, acknowledged this evidence in an announcement it recently posted on its website about “the potential intersection between PFAS exposure and COVID -19”.
“PFAS chemicals are a family of chemicals widely used in industrial and consumer product applications, and commonly used to make water-repellent, grease-repellent, and stain-repellent coatings,” says David Andrews, PhD, Principal Scientist at Environmental Working Group. (EWG), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public health advocacy group “PFAS chemicals are highly stable and insensitive to degradation, giving them what is often considered a performance advantage in many products.This apparent advantage of chemical and physical stability is what has led to widespread worldwide contamination [by PFAS] and [has provided them with] their ability to harm human health.
These toxins are ubiquitous in everyday life, but a ban on PFAS for food packaging, proposed to Congress in late 2021, can help limit everyday exposure to the toxins. The Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act is a bipartisan effort, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and in the House of Representatives by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Don Young (R- AK). If the bill passes, it is expected to be signed into law by January 1, 2024.
A ban on PFAS is “long overdue and [is] hopefully the first of many,” says Calloway Cook, president of Illuminate Labs, a dietary supplement company. “It is unfortunate that many packaged food products in the United States contain compounds known to be harmful to human health, but whose use remains legal,” he adds. “The FDA and Congress should review the medical literature on more compounds like PFAS and err on the side of caution, [and look at] ban all compounds proven to be toxic in animal studies at doses achievable through regular use… The cost of switching to more sustainable alternatives is not high, even with plastics, but most companies do not focus on long-term environmental effects. It is absolutely the role of Congress to better regulate the food industry, and I hope that the bill banning PFAS is the first of many similar bills.
Andrews agrees, saying in an EWG press release, “The PFAS Food Container Protection Act would quickly eliminate a major and completely avoidable potential source of exposure to these chemicals forever.”
PFAS are widely used because they offer a solution to consumer packaging, but what could be used instead? “With hundreds to thousands of PFAS chemicals, it is likely that there will be a significant, if not similar, number of alternative chemicals or alternatives needed to completely replace PFAS,” Andrews says, pointing out that where safer alternatives exist, they should be used. instead of PFAS as soon as possible. In other cases, alternatives may need to be developed and should potentially be encouraged. For example, medical devices, which are essential to human health and safety, must absolutely be free of toxins. But unfortunately this is not the case.
Yet replacing PFAS with non-harmful alternatives is not that simple. “Many of the PFAS in use today replace different PFAS chemicals such as PFOA [perfluorooctanoic acid] and PFOS [perfluorooctane sulfonic acid] that were used decades ago,” says Andrews. “Many of the regulations phasing out the use of PFAS, such as Washington State’s ban on PFAS in food packaging, require alternative evaluation to ensure that replacements [provided] are safer [than the original options].” This certainly explains why it would be difficult to ban PFAS immediately, even after learning of the health risks associated with their use: they help sustain consumerism.
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently investigating more than 1,000 completely legal PFAS chemicals, which is of concern to the environment and human health. Introducing regulations for various industries, such as food packaging, cosmetics, and textiles, will help curb the use of PFAS and stop contamination and disease related to these chemicals. To check if you live in a PFAS-contaminated area and if you need to take precautions, like filtering your tap water, the EWG offers an interactive online map along with expert advice on avoiding exposure. to PFAS.
And just as it’s not always possible to avoid all sources of COVID-19, avoiding all potential sources of PFAS isn’t always as easy as it may seem. Research by Greenpeace in 2016 revealed PFAS contaminants in jackets made by environmentally focused brands like North Face, which plans to phase out PFAS by 2025, and Patagonia, which aims to ensure that 85 % of its garments are “PFAS-free by the end of it”. of 2022”; in 2014, Greenpeace found PFAS in more than 80 items of clothing, including shoes, purchased in 2013.
Finding a water-repellent, affordable, PFAS-free raincoat may not be easy, but reducing fatty foods packaged in PFAS-treated containers or wrappers (such as fast food and microwave popcorn) and Preparing foods in non-PFAS-treated non-stick cookware – one currently available alternative you could try is learning to cook with a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, for example – can help. Yet, with the proliferation of PFAS use in so many aspects of American daily life, the responsibility for substantial change falls most on the government, which has the power to make legislative changes to limit corporate reliance. to PFAS. As things stand, Americans live in a country where it is very difficult to avoid exposure to PFAS and its harms.
“It is imperative that regulation move forward to limit future harm from PFAS chemicals based on what we know about the extreme toxicity and potential risk these chemicals pose to human health,” says Andrews. “Regulations must be enacted quickly to stop any ongoing industrial release and [to] eliminate approval of new PFASs that may pose health or environmental risks.
Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a New York-based writer. She is a writer at Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. Follow her on Twitter: @melissabethk.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Lifea project of the Independent Media Institute.