Breakthrough allows scientists to track toxic chemicals from fast food wrappers as they contaminate the body

A team of researchers have created a new method in monitoring traces of perfluorinated compounds (PFAS), chemicals commonly used in fast-food wrappers, in the body. This comes just a month after a recent study showed that such chemicals were found in more than one third of food packaging tested.

Health experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Medicine and the University of Notre Dame developed the new method by replacing one of the fluorine atoms on the PFAS molecule with radioisotope fluorine-18, the same radioactive flourine used in medical positron emission tomography scans in medical establishments around the world. This enabled the team to radiolabel three forms of perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances and track their whereabouts once they enter the body. The tests were done in mice models of PFC exposure.

“Each of the tracers exhibited some degree of uptake in all of the organs and tissues of interest that were tested, including the brain. The highest uptake was observed in the liver and stomach, and similar amounts were observed in the femur and lungs,” said senior author Suzanne Lapi, reports.

“The findings are significant because of the type of chemicals we studied and the potential for harm…Two of the three compounds we studied were short-chain PFAS compounds. These results suggest that these chemicals not only bind more effectively to blood, but they accumulate in different organs such as the brain and the stomach,” said researcher Graham Peaslee, reports.

The findings were published in the Journal of Environment Science and Technology

PFCs cause a host of adverse conditions

Various clinical studies have established a strong link between PFCs and adverse medical conditions.

A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology showed that children, especially boys, with higher prenatal PFC exposure had increased odds of congenital cerebral palsy. A case-control study of Inuit women revealed that pregnant women who were at the highest quintile of PFC exposure showed increased likelihood of suffering premenopausal breast cancer. The results were published in the journal Environmental Health.

PFCs found in fast food packaging may contribute to the increasing prevalence of obesity and diabetes. A Canadian study published in the journal Environmental Research revealed a correlation between PFC exposure and elevated cholesterol levels in adults. Another diabetes study showed that high PFC exposure was associated with impaired glucose homeostasis, as well as greater prevalence of the disease. High PFC exposure was also tied to the development of ulcerative colitis.

Various other studies have also associated PFCs in fast food packaging with a host of adverse conditions including low birth weight, thyroid disease and kidney and testicular cancers.

PFC is an environmental concern

The production of various commercial and industrial products using perfluorinated compounds has been heavily scrutinized for years due to its potential environmental impact.

A 2015 study published in Environmental Research examined how PFC prevalence affects the food chain balance in the Arctic region. Researchers found that exposure to this toxic compound might have a significant impact on the behavior, hormonal balance, and survival capacity of polar bears in the region. Study lead author Kathrine Eggers Pedersen said PFCs have increasingly accumulated in the Arctic in previous years. “People should be aware of the impact that the chemicals have on the environment and the region’s general population,” Pedersen added.

Another study revealed a correlation between PFC exposure and consumption of fish from U.S. urban rivers and great lakes. Fillet samples from fish showed a significant occurrence of PFCs within certain bodies of water in the U.S. (Related: Find out more about the dangers associated with fast food and perfluorinated compounds by visiting



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