HomeIndustry InsightsChemicals in Plastic Food Packaging Found to Disrupt Metabolism and Endocrine Systems

Chemicals in Plastic Food Packaging Found to Disrupt Metabolism and Endocrine Systems

Norwegian University Study Reveals Migration of Harmful Chemicals from Common Plastics

A new study by Sarah Stevens and colleagues from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has revealed significant findings regarding chemicals migrating from food contact articles (FCAs) into food simulants. The study found that 73% of extractable chemicals from FCAs migrated into food simulants, with only 2% of these chemicals matching those currently known in plastics. All detected chemicals activated nuclear receptors, which could potentially disrupt human metabolism and endocrine systems. Notably, chemicals migrating from polyurethane (PUR), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) were found to be more numerous and toxic than those from other polymers.

Research Details

The study tested 14 plastic FCAs from four European countries, covering common polymer types. Chemical migration was investigated using two food simulants: water (representing aqueous foods) and a 50:50 water-ethanol mixture (representing fatty foods such as dairy products or alcoholic beverages). The researchers employed non-target high-resolution mass spectrometry and reporter gene assays with human cell lines to screen the migrating chemicals and assess their impact on metabolism and endocrine activity. 

Key Findings

1. Chemical Migration and Human Exposure

- Seventy-three percent of chemical features measured in prior extraction experiments migrated into at least one food simulant. 

- Twenty-one percent of chemicals migrated into both water and the water-ethanol mixture, indicating a high likelihood of human exposure. 

- Less than 2% of these chemical features could be identified against the 16,000 known plastic chemicals, highlighting a significant number of unknown chemicals in plastics. 

2. Receptor Activation and Toxicity

- All samples activated at least two nuclear receptors, with higher activity observed in the water-ethanol mixture compared to water. 

- The pregnane X receptor, important for energy homeostasis, was the most commonly targeted, potentially leading to metabolic disruptions such as hypercholesterolemia and cardiovascular diseases. 

- Some chemicals displayed nonmonotonic dose responses, a characteristic of endocrine disruptors. 

3. Polymer-Specific Findings

- PVC, PUR, and LDPE showed the highest toxicity and contained the most chemical features. - These materials typically have more additives and processing aids compared to other polymers. 

Implications for PET and Risk Mitigation

Although the study did not specifically target polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the findings stress the importance of scrutinizing chemicals in all plastic FCAs, including PET. To mitigate risks when procuring PET or other plastic raw materials, companies can take the following steps: 

1. Supplier Transparency and Certification 

When sourcing PET resin, prioritize suppliers offering detailed chemical composition and safety information, complying with FDA or EFSA standards. This ensures regulatory compliance and guarantees the safety and quality of PET materials for diverse applications.

2. Stringent Quality Control

Implement strict quality control measures to monitor and minimize harmful chemicals in PET materials. Use advanced analytical techniques, such as high-resolution mass spectrometry, to detect and quantify unknown substances. These efforts ensure compliance with safety standards and maintain the integrity of PET products across various applications.

3. Safer Additives and Processing Aids

Choose PET formulations with safer, less toxic additives and processing aids, and collaborate with suppliers on innovative materials and techniques to minimize chemical migration. These steps enhance product safety, environmental sustainability, and regulatory compliance.

4. Regular Testing and Monitoring

Regularly test chemical migration from PET products into food simulants under realistic conditions. Evaluate potential endocrine-disrupting effects of detected chemicals using appropriate bioassays. These measures support rigorous safety assessments, ensuring compliance with regulatory standards and protecting consumer health from PET-related risks.

Overall, participants in the plastics industry must acknowledge the risk of harmful chemical migration from plastic food contact articles (FCAs) to food. To address this, companies should focus on supplier transparency, stringent quality control, safer additives, regular testing, and staying updated with regulations. These steps are crucial for enhancing the safety of PET and other plastic food packaging, ensuring human health protection.

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