It’s common knowledge that fast food isn’t the most nutritious dining option, but you should at least be able to expect that the hamburger or chicken nuggets you are devouring are nontoxic. That may not be the case, say researchers at George Washington University. A new study published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology has revealed that most of the food items at popular fast-food restaurants are full of chemicals known as phthalates that have been linked to a host of health problems. This is the first study to measure phthalates directly in fast food and contributes to the scientific evidence linking fast food consumption to higher levels of phthalates.
What Chemicals Did the Researchers Find?
Researchers at George Washington University bought 64 popular menu options from Burger King, Chipotle, Domino’s, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell and tested them for 8 common phthalates and 3 replacement plasticizers. 10 of the 11 chemicals were present at high levels in nearly all of the samples. 81% of the samples contained DnBP and 70% contained DEHP; both phthalates have been linked to fertility and reproductive issues as well as increased risks of behavioral, learning, and attention disorders in children. 86% of the samples contained DEHT, a plasticizer that is being used as a replacement for phthalates. Overall, samples that contained meat had significantly higher levels of phthalates than vegetarian options; but phthalates were still present in both types of food.
What are Phthalates?
Phthalates are a family of chemicals that are primarily used to make plastics soft. Unfortunately, fast food items come into contact with a lot of plastic, including food handling gloves, industrial tubing, food conveyor belts, and the packaging used to wrap fast-food meals. The result is that these chemicals accumulate on the food items themselves. This is concerning because the FDA currently does not have a limit on the levels of phthalates that can legally or safely be allowed in food.
Phthalates have been linked to serious health problems and many scientists believe they should be banned from consumer products and food. Each chemical within the family of phthalates has a unique impact on the human body, but these are some of the general health effects that have been linked to phthalates:
- Damage to DNA in sperm
- Endocrine disruption
- Hormones issues
- Male reproductive system abnormalities
- Neurodevelopmental problems in infants and children
- Thyroid problems
- Impaired brain development
While we know some of the health effects of phthalates, plasticizers are still new and have yet to be studied for health risks. Unfortunately, we have a regulatory system in the U.S where a chemical isn’t considered a problem until it is proven to be dangerous. So the chemical industry can replace a banned phthalate with a slightly tweaked plasticizer without proving it is safe. Moreover, because our regulatory system is such a patchwork, phthalates that have been banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for use in children’s products and toys, are still not banned by the FDA for use in food packaging materials. So, until our regulatory agencies decide to follow common sense and ban phthalates across the board in consumer products, you will have to do what you can to reduce your exposure and keep yourself safe and healthy.
How to Avoid Phthalates
Because phthalates are so pervasive in our environment, it would be impossible to avoid them entirely. However, you can dramatically reduce your exposure to phthalates by avoiding processed and fast foods. Eating homecooked meals is a safer option for you and your family and will go a long way in reducing your exposure. You can also reduce your exposure to phthalates by:
- Avoiding items that are made from plastic (especially plastics labeled #3, #6, and #7).
- Using unscented laundry detergents, cleaning supplies, and lotions.
- Eating fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned.
- Avoiding air fresheners.
- Using glass, stainless steel, or ceramic to hold and store food.
- Buying items that are advertised as being ‘phthalate-free’.
Taking these above steps will help you and your family achieve a healthier lifestyle.
The Collins Law Firm is a boutique environmental firm fighting for people who have been impacted by toxic chemicals. If you have recently been diagnosed with an illness linked to a toxin that you have been exposed to in your home or neighborhood, call our environmental attorneys at(630) 527-1595 for a free consultation.