Paper straws often contain PFAS substances, according to a new Belgian study. Nine out of ten straws of the brands tested by the researchers were found to contain these substances.
In 2021, the new EU law banning single-use plastic products will be passed, which means that many of these products will no longer be used or their use will be restricted. One such product was plastic straws, which were replaced by cardboard or bamboo straws in fast-food restaurants and elsewhere because they were considered more “environmentally friendly”.
Researchers at the University of Antwerp in Belgium tested and compared plastic, bamboo, stainless steel, glass and cardboard straws for levels of PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances. They tested 39 different brands of straws from stores and fast-food restaurants. The study, published in the journal Food Additives & Contaminants, shows that 69% of these straws contained PFAS, and a total of 18 different PFAS substances were found. The top substance found was PFOA, which will be banned in 2020 because it is a reproductive toxicant and is suspected of causing cancer.
Most common in paper straws
The highest levels of PFAS were found in paper straws, with 90% of all brands containing PFAS. It was also found in 80% of bamboo straws, 75% of plastic straws and 40% of glass straws. There were no PFAS in stainless steel straws.
– Straws made from plant-based materials, such as paper and bamboo, are often advertised as being more sustainable and eco-friendly than those made from plastic, said environmental scientist Dr. Thimo Groffen. Yet, the existence of PFAS in these straws suggests otherwise.
One reason for the high levels of PFAS could be that they have a kind of water-repellent coating that contains the substances. However, the researchers stress that the levels were low and it is not dangerous to use such straws from time to time. However, PFAS can be stored in the body for several years, building on what is already in the body.
– Small amounts of PFAS, while not harmful in themselves, can add to the chemical load already present in the body, Dr. Groffen said.
The researchers recommend using stainless steel straws whenever possible.
Perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, also known as highly fluorinated substances, is a collective term for a group of more than 10,000 identified substances that can have different properties and uses. However, the common denominator is that they are very difficult to break down and some can have harmful effects on both humans and the environment. All PFASs are manufactured synthetically.