A new paper notes that they can detect per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances - deemed by environmental activists as "forever" chemicals because they persist from to eight years - in 42 samples of food packaging. Like food bowls that are compostable and sustainable and better for the environment than plastic.

Ironically, this new detection, and resulting scare, happened because consumers demanded alternatives to plastic after environmental public relations campaigns saying all the fish were dying. Most foods will not be safe in paper(1) unless you eat them right away. And yet the alternative is now claimed to be worse than the thing they wanted replaced.

It isn't, but then plastic has been overhyped also.

PFAS is really common, over 9,000 compounds, so is it a worry at the levels they can detect? The short answer is no, and not even at three orders of magnitude above these levels. You could get 10,000 percent of the levels they're promoting as worrisome every day and unless you lived to be 450 years old couldn't feel an impact. 

The reason so many chemophobia claims get made weekly is that we can detect anything in anything now. We can detect a chemical in parts per quadrillion. If you think a drop of medicine in 160 Olympic-sized swimming pools will cure a disease, you are a homeopath - or an environmental lawyer. 

Science does not work that way but activists don't need science. They just need a paper to claim there is "emerging evidence" to file a lawsuit. If it can be detected at all, they want to scare us by ignoring that old science tenet 'the dose makes the poison.' To avoid that science problem, they can use epidemiology instead. If you are new to epidemiology, using vague terms too freely is why chemists, biologists, and toxicologists regard it as "Smurf science" - it can be anything you want. 

And terms are used freely in a new paper. 

The authors claim that PFAS "have been linked" to cancer "risk" and, a catch-all with no scientific validity, "immune system damage."  What does that even mean? Alcohol has been linked to cancer and yet alcohol has also been linked to longevity. Meat both causes and cures cancer in epidemiology papers. In this case the "have been linked to" is in rats and the "risk" is in a spreadsheet. Rats are not 'little people' which is why animal studies are only thrown into the exploratory pile. No drug or medical device has ever been approved based on mice or rat studies because those can only exclude human relevance, they can never show it. 

Statistics is even less likely to be valid because it is so prone to bias and error. If you create 63 rows of disease and 10 columns of chemicals, 7 out of 10 times you will find meaningful clumps. That allows you to claim "statistical significance" and get in something like Environmental Science and Technology Letters without any biological, toxicological, or chemical mechanism needed. Giant pools of data are why meat, cheese, you name it, it can be correlated to causing or preventing cancer.  

In the real world, your risk of cancer is impacted by many things but papers focusing on one ignore confounders, or sloppily claim to control for them.

The press release is written more like a trial lawyer's plea for action than something out to inform the public, they claim PFAS "enter streams" in wastewater, as if that is meaningful, and brag that ban happy California wants to get rid of them. 

It's not going to make people safer, in the US or Canada, it will instead make food, including those compostable bowls we are supposed to use to save the planet, a lot more expensive.


(1) In true activist form, they lobbied and sued and marketed to get a product banned, and now do the same to the replacement, cashing checks the whole way.