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"Eco-Friendly Straws Found to Contain 'Forever Chemicals,' Says New Study"

Published September 21, 2023
9 months ago

A recent study conducted by Belgian scientists has raised concerns over the safety of paper and bamboo straws, often touted as more environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic. The study found these straws can contain potentially hazardous chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

PFAS, dubbed 'forever chemicals', are composed of more than 4,000 synthetic substances, widely used in everyday products from non-stick pans to fast-food packaging, due to their water- and fat-repellent properties. They are also notorious for their persistence, remaining in the environment for thousands of years without breaking down. Ongoing exposure to these chemicals can have serious health implications for humans and animals.

In their examination of 39 commercial drinking straw brands, the researchers discovered PFAS in nearly all tested paper and bamboo straws. Lower frequencies were found in plastic and glass straws. The most frequently detected PFAS was perfluorooctanoic acid, banned from manufacture in the EU since 2020 due to safety concerns, but still traceable in recycled or older consumer items.

The infiltration of PFAS in plant-based straws could be due to soil pollution, or the use of PFAS-contaminated recycled paper during production. Potential exposure occurs when the chemicals leach into beverages consumed via these straws. Indirect exposure can also occur through recycled straws contaminating soil, water, and other products derived from recycled materials.

Health risks linked to PFAS exposure encompass fertility reduction in pregnant women, elevated blood pressure, developmental issues in children, and immune system compromise. Links have also been discovered between PFAS and heightened COVID-19 infection severity. Moreover, the chemicals affect wildlife, reducing reproduction abilities in birds, tumour development, and disrupted immune and kidney functions in various animals.

To mitigate PFAS exposure from straws, the study suggests the use of stainless steel straws, in which no detectable levels of PFAS were found. However, stainless steel straws may carry their own health risks from heavy metals, such as chromium and nickel. Therefore, the study recommends avoiding straw usage wherever feasible.

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