Toxic “forever” chemicals likely to be present in Ireland

15 September 2021

Toxic “forever chemicals” are now likely to be commonly present in Ireland, according to new analysis.

Polyflourinated alkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS, are now being used to treat many types of packaging in the Irish market and will have major consequences for waste streams and the circular economy, according to preliminary analysis by VOICE.

Their presence in food packaging carries significant risk to human health, as it has been linked to fertility problems, fluctuations in metabolism, a weakened immune system and a higher chance of being obese or contracting cancer.

These informally known “forever chemicals” have been used in industrial and consumer products since 1950s due to their water and oil resistance, chemical and heat stability, and friction reduction.

According to the European Chemicals Agency, even if the release of PFAS were to cease immediately, “they would continue to be present in the environment, and humans, for generations to come.”

Due to their presence in composting packaging, there is a risk that “these chemicals will get into our food chain,” according to VOICE policy researcher Angela Ruttledge.

“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 fibres containers that are likely to contain PFAS,” she added.

VOICE are calling on an immediate ban of the use of PFAS in packaging and for Ireland to join Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands in working towards a total ban on the manufacture and use of all PFAS in Europe.

They are also calling on the Irish Government to advocate for and support a quick implementation of the objectives in the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, which includes a total ban on all non-essential use of PFAS.

“Denmark introduced a prohibition on PFAS in paper and board food packaging in July 2020. Subsequently, a survey found no intentional treatment with PFAS in this type of packaging there,” VOICE chief coordinator Mindy O’Brien said.

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

About the Author

Kayle Crosson