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Tests under way on food containers over concerns they are treated with harmful toxins

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Provisional tests on samples of compostable food packaging in regular use in Ireland show signs they have been treated with toxic chemicals.

The items show clear indications of being treated with PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals” that can cause serious damage to health.

They are termed “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the body or environment, but build up in ever-increasing concentration over time.

To make matters worse, the items they are linked to are considered environmentally friendly, made from paper and moulded plant fibres for composting or recycling.

Environmental group, VOICE, which carried out the tests, has sent the products for full laboratory analysis but is meanwhile asking Government to announce an immediate ban on the use of PFAS.

Such a move would follow the lead of Denmark, which introduced a ban last year, and would be ahead of restrictions expected to come down the line from Europe.

Items VOICE tested included chip bags, pizza boxes, soup containers, ice-cream cups, salad boxes, burger boxes, bakery bags and cake boxes.

They used a technique which involved checking how the items repel a drop of oil.

PFAS, a group of 4,700 manmade chemicals, are widely used in manufacturing to protect materials and finishes from penetration by water, grease, stains and fire.

But they can disrupt the body’s hormones which in turn can damage organs and fertility and cause cancer.

VOICE researcher Angela Ruttledge said the tests were prompted by growing evidence in Europe of the spread of PFAS in food packaging.

“If the packaging is composted, for example, there is a risk these chemicals will get into our food chain,” she said.

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“There has been an explosion in takeaway packaging during the pandemic and many businesses, trying to do the right thing, have moved to the type of moulded plant fibre containers that are likely to contain PFAS.”

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) said it was examining the presence of PFAS in food and food packaging.

“Discussions are ongoing at EU-level with regards to PFAS in food and food contact materials (FCMs) and the FSAI plays an active role in these,” a spokesperson said.

The Department of the Environment said it was working with the FSAI on the issue.

It added: “Department officials are engaged in ongoing work at EU-level to address hazardous chemicals in materials which may result in legislative changes in the future.”

Mindy O’Brien, chief coordinator at VOICE, said, however, a ban should be introduced immediately.

She said Denmark made the move a year ago and subsequently found no intentional treatment with PFAS in food packaging there.

“This shows both that a ban can work and that PFAS-free packaging is available. If Denmark can do it, we can too.”


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