Popcorn, pizza and poison

pizza box

Science marches on and continues to shine a light on health and safety hazards that large corporations expose all of us to in their quest for profits and markets.

A recent example is reported in a November 9, 2010, article explaining the dangers of toxic chemicals found in fast food packaging. Chemists at the University of Toronto had been looking for the likely origin of certain chemicals that appear as contaminants in human blood. Apparently, the article notes, they're from food packaging.

One of the most common of these chemicals, called PFCAs*, is found in human blood all over the world. This is PFOA. One of the chemists involved in the study, Jessica D'eon explained PFOA, the best known PFCA, is produced by the breakdown of PAPs, which "are applied as grease proofing agents to paper food contact packaging such as fast food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags."

These chemicals have been made industrially since the 1940s and are so widely used that they are found in the blood of most humans worldwide. They are known to cause cancer and other toxic effects. Industry has been successful in keeping them unregulated.

Scientists are now pushing for some government intervention, but mere human health seems to always take a back seat to profits under capitalism. This new study shows that, in the words of research supervisor Scott Mabury, "the current use of PAPs in food contact applications does result in human exposure to PFCAs" in a significant way. The new research is also important because "some try to locate the blame for human exposure on environmental contamination that resulted from past chemical use rather than the chemicals that are currently in production."

Some governments are at least waking up to the possible need to regulate these chemicals, but they will drag their feet, if history is any guide, and allow lobbyists from the food and chemical industries to slow down and even postpone regulations. Meanwhile, next time you unwrap your burger, just remember you may be getting a little dose of poison with every bite.

As for pizza, a 2007 study carried out in Italy determined that the chemicals in recycled cardboard could be contaminating your next slice. Here's the deal. Trying to be "green" (and no doubt to save on production costs) manufactures are turning to recycled cardboard to make pizza boxes.

The problem is that the cardboard comes from many sources and often has printing on it, just as the pizza box does. There is a chemical in ink, DIBP, which lurks in the recycled cardboard. The heat of the nice hot pizza inside the box causes it to leach out of the cardboard and settle down on the pizza. When you order your pie with onions and peppers it actually come with onions, peppers and DIBP - which has a similar make up to androgenic hormones (also known as testoids) in your body. Testoids can reduce sperm production and also induce sex differences - with other dire results.

The scientists who conducted this study have developed a test that can detect the amount of DIBP in pizza boxes (as well as other recycled materials used in food packaging). In Italy the use of recycled cardboard in pizza boxes has been banned.

But what about the U.S.? Health conscious Americans can take comfort from a 2010 news story by Trish Green. According to her, Wal-Mart wants to reduce all waste - by reusing and recycling everything.

"As part of this recycling mission," Green notes, "Wal-Mart is taking all of its cardboard waste and turning it into pizza boxes!"

Bon appétit!

*Full names of chemicals referenced:

PFCA: perflorinated carboxylic acid
PFOA: perfluorooctanoic acid

PAP: polyfluoroalkyl phosphate ester
DIBP: diisobutyl phthalate

Image: Crabchick // CC BY 2.0

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  • @Brandon Ivey

    That was directed at me, I take it. You seem to be demanding that I either agree with you or shut up. That's not going to happen. I'm not going worry about what's in pizza, and I'm not going to worry about trying to live to be as old as possible. The people who write some of these lifestyle-type articles just take it for granted that everybody has to want what they want.

    Now, as for fast food restaurants and their addictive foods...

    You're not going to win that one.

    I don't mean that you're not going to win that argument against me -- I don't care who eats what or why, or who's to blame for the existence of fat people. I mean that you're not going to succeed in getting Americans, or ANY lifeforms, to revolt en masse against having too much access to the food they prefer at a price they can afford. That's just reality.

    Posted by Trailer Trash, 11/11/2010 5:26pm (5 years ago)

  • Also, do not let restaurants put your take-home food
    in styrofoam, which also leaches into hot food and is
    harmful. Insist they line the box with aluminum foil,
    or use another kind of receptacle. Some Chinese
    restaurants in NYC have stopped using styrofoam and use
    a hard (safe) plastic box instead.

    Posted by Betty Smith, 11/11/2010 3:55pm (5 years ago)

  • Should anything that Wal-Mart does that harms people really surprise you? I don't understand something. Since profits are the bottom line for capitalistic institutions, then why would they do things that are harmful to the health of their customers?

    Posted by Gregory B. Worrell, 11/11/2010 3:07pm (5 years ago)

  • First, if you are not going to comment in a way that adds to the conversation of the issue, do the rest of us a favor and don't comment.

    Fast food corporations have been trying to find more and more ways to lure us in and addict us to their products. From the effects sugars and lipids have on our brains to the colors of their signs and buildings, to the prices of their "food". And they know full well that they helped cause the endocrine induced wave of obesity in the US. Now they seek to have a scapegoat in killing us. "See? It wasn't the hamburger that killed him, it was his box poison level. Not our fault! Because you can't tell where he got it from." All the while paying the government to hush about it.

    I hate to say it, but this is old bag for corporations. So, why doesn't the CPUSA help incite a mass revolt?

    Posted by Brandon Ivey, 11/11/2010 12:17pm (5 years ago)

  • "Meanwhile, next time you unwrap your burger, just remember you may be getting a little dose of poison with every bite... (etc, etc)... there is a chemical in ink, DIBP, which lurks in the recycled cardboard. The heat of the nice hot pizza inside the box causes it to leach out of the cardboard and settle down on the pizza."

    Good. I don't want to live forever. I just want to enjoy the time that I have.

    Posted by Trailer Trash, 11/10/2010 7:57pm (5 years ago)

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