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Chemicals used to make plastics soft found in McDonald's, Chipotle and Pizza Hut food

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It’s not just the cholesterol, calories and carbohydrates in fast food that people have to worry about: burgers, pizza and burritos are crawling with toxic ‘forever chemicals,’ according to a new study.

Researchers at George Washington University ordered dozens of items from McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Taco Bell and Chipotle.

According to their analysis, they found phthalates, which are used to make plastic pliable, in over 80 percent of the samples.   

Phthalates are also known as plasticizers, and are used in hundreds of products, from vinyl flooring and plastic packaging to soaps and shampoos. 

In addition, they have been linked to numerous health problems, including cancer, liver damage, infertility, thyroid disease, asthma and even smaller testicles, as well as learning disabilities, behavioral issues and attention-deficit disorders in children.

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Researchers at George Washington University tested menu items from McDonald's, Burger King, Domino's and other fast-food chains for phtalates, so-called 'forever chemicals' used in hundreds of household products

Researchers at George Washington University tested menu items from McDonald’s, Burger King, Domino’s and other fast-food chains for phtalates, so-called ‘forever chemicals’ used in hundreds of household products

People are exposed to phthalates by ingesting foods and beverages that have contacted products containing phthalates or by breathing phthalate particles in the air directly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exposure is a particular risk for kids, the health agency said, because children crawl around touching things and put them in their mouths. 

The researchers chose the restaurants and menu items — hamburgers, fries, chicken nuggets, chicken burritos and cheese pizza — based on market share and best-selling items.

Items made with meat had higher levels of phthalates, while French fries and cheese pizza had the lowest, according to their findings, published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. 

They found 81 percent of the items tested contained a phthalate called DnBP, which has been linked to a heightened risk for asthma, and 70 percent contained DEHP, which has been tied to reduced fertility and other reproductive issues

They found 81 percent of the items tested contained a phthalate called DnBP, which has been linked to a heightened risk for asthma, and 70 percent contained DEHP, which has been tied to reduced fertility and other reproductive issues

Of the food they ordered, 81 percent contained a phthalate called DnBP, which has been linked to a heightened risk for asthma, and 70 percent contained DEHP, which has been tied to reduced fertility and other reproductive issues.

As concern over phthalates grows, alternative plasticizers have been developed, and the scientists found one such substitute, called DEHT, in 86 percent of the junk food.

The full health impact of these alternative plasticizers are not yet known, the researchers said.

The burgers, McNuggets and milkshakes could have come into contact with phthalates and replacement plasticizers anywhere along the food-supply chain, the researchers said, from processing and packaging equipment to the plastic gloves worn by employees.

Items made with meat had higher levels of phthalates, while french fries and cheese pizza had the lowest, according to the study

Items made with meat had higher levels of phthalates, while french fries and cheese pizza had the lowest, according to the study

Pictured: Chemical formula and molecular model for a phthalate. Certain phthalates have been linked to cancer, liver damage, infertility, thyroid disease, and asthma

Pictured: Chemical formula and molecular model for a phthalate. Certain phthalates have been linked to cancer, liver damage, infertility, thyroid disease, and asthma

Co-author Ami Zota, a professor of environmental health at GWU, said the study raises concerns that low-income Americans and people of color are being disproportionately exposed to phthalates.

‘Disadvantaged neighborhoods often have plenty of fast-food outlets but limited access to healthier foods like fruits and vegetables,’ Zota told The Washington Post. ‘Additional research needs to be done to find out whether people living in such food deserts are at higher risk of exposure to these harmful chemicals.’

A 2019 CDC report found non-Latino blacks have higher levels of exposure to several phthalates and phthalate alternatives than whites.

It also indicated adult women across the board registered higher levels of plasticizers used in soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, and other personal care products than men did.

The FDA doesn’t set limits for phthalates in food, according to the Post, but the levels detected in the 64 fast-food items purchased from franchises around San Antonio, Texas, were all below the EPA’s current acceptable thresholds.

Still, the FDA told the Post that it would review the George Washington study and consider its findings.

‘Although the FDA has high safety standards, as new scientific information becomes available, we reevaluate our safety assessments,’ an agency spokesperson said.

‘Where new information raises safety questions, the FDA may revoke food additive approvals, if the FDA is no longer able to conclude that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from the authorized use.’

The EPA said it was moving to regulate certain forever chemicals — known as Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — in US drinking water after they have repeatedly appeared in water reservoirs across the country

The EPA said it was moving to regulate certain forever chemicals — known as Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — in US drinking water after they have repeatedly appeared in water reservoirs across the country

Last week, the EPA said it was moving to regulate certain forever chemicals — known as Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — in U.S. drinking water after they have repeatedly appeared in water supplies across the country.

The agency said it would also designate some as hazardous chemicals.

PFAs are used to make cookware, rainwear, carpet and other items water- and stain-resistant, but have also been tied to health issues, including higher cholesterol, an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, and damage to the immune system, as well as  birth defects, smaller birth weights, and decreased vaccine response in children.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan (pictured) said the agency was moving to regulate forever chemicals called PFAS, which are used to make items water- and stain-resistant, but have also been tied higher cholesterol, an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, and damage to the immune system

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan (pictured) said the agency was moving to regulate forever chemicals called PFAS, which are used to make items water- and stain-resistant, but have also been tied higher cholesterol, an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, and damage to the immune system

‘For far too long, families across America – especially those in underserved communities – have suffered from PFAS in their water, their air, or in the land their children play on,’ EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement.

‘This comprehensive, national PFAS strategy will deliver protections to people who are hurting, by advancing bold and concrete actions that address the full lifecycle of these chemicals. Let there be no doubt that EPA is listening, we have your back, and we are laser focused on protecting people from pollution and holding polluters accountable.’

WHAT ARE FOREVER CHEMICALS? 

‘Forever chemicals’ are a class of common industrial compounds that don’t break down when they’re released into the environment.

Humans are exposed to these chemicals after they’ve come in contact with food, soil or water reservoirs. 

These chemicals — known more properly as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — are added to cookware, carpets, textiles and other items to make them more water- and stain-repellant. 

PFAS contamination has been detected in water near manufacturing facilities,  as well as at military bases and firefighting training facilities where flame-retardant foam is used.

The chemicals have been linked to an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, and damage to the immune system, as well as  birth defects, smaller birth weights, and decreased vaccine response in children. 

 

 

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