Popular Paper Straws May Be Containing Harmful PFAS Chemicals, Study Shows

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A recent study challenges the perception that eco-friendly paper straws are better for the environment than plastic ones. The study highlights potential health risks associated with paper straws due to the presence of long-lasting “forever chemicals.” These chemicals can lead to serious health problems like cancer, thyroid issues, and liver complications.

Most bamboo and paper-based straws contain harmful PFAS chemicals

Ninety percent of paper-based and bamboo straws from the 39 brands studied contained poly and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), while stainless steel straws were PFAS-free.

PFAS chemicals, known for their persistence and potential harm, can negatively impact humans, wildlife, and the environment. They’re associated with health problems like weakened vaccine response, lower birth weight, thyroid and cholesterol issues, liver damage, and certain cancers. These substances are present in common products like outdoor attire and non-stick cookware, providing water, heat, and stain resistance.

Dr. Thimo Groffen from the University of Antwerp notes that plant-based straws like paper and bamboo are marketed as eco-friendly alternatives to plastic straws, but they might not be as sustainable due to the presence of PFAS.

A growing number of countries, like the UK and Belgium, are banning single-use plastic items, leading to increased use of plant-based alternatives. This trend aligns with a previous US study on straws. In a comprehensive analysis, researchers examined 39 straw brands made from paper, bamboo, glass, stainless steel, and plastic. These straws, obtained from various sources, underwent two PFAS testing rounds. Surprisingly, 69% of these brands contained PFAS, encompassing 18 different types.

Stainless steel straws are PFAS free

The study found that paper, bamboo, plastic, and glass straws contain varying levels of PFAS chemicals, with paper straws being the highest at 90%. Stainless steel straws, however, were PFAS-free. The banned PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), along with other soluble “ultra-short chain” PFAS like trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) and trifluoromethanesulfonic acid (TFMS), were identified in the straws. While PFAS levels were low and straws are used infrequently, these chemicals can accumulate in the body over time.

Dr Groffen explained that although small amounts of PFAS aren’t harmful they can elevate the chemical load present in our bodies.

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