The UK government has been urged to ban all unnecessary uses of so-called ‘forever chemicals’ amid warnings over their impact on health and the environment.
In a letter to Defra ministers, a group of 30 civil society organisations said the entire group of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), which are widely used in food packaging, posed “an unacceptable risk to wildlife, human health and the wider environment”.
They said there was now clear and unequivocal evidence demonstrating global contamination of the environment, wildlife and human populations by PFAS.
They presented evidence showing that PFAS are accumulating in human bodies, including those of children, and that exposure poses an immediate threat to human health.
Fidra, an environmental charity based in Scotland, last year found high levels of potentially toxic chemicals in supermarket packaging as well as that of high street brands including Caffè Nero, Costa, Greggs, Pret a Manger, Starbucks and Dominos. The study revealed significant levels of PFAS present in 90% of food packaging tested including bakery and cookie bags.
The group of over 4,700 industrial chemicals are also found in everyday items such as cookware, toiletries, clothing, carpets and cosmetics. They are favoured for their ability to repel oil and water, lubricate and helps things spread.
The NGOs, which included Fidra, the Marine Conservation Society and the Soil Association, warned ministers that PFAS pollution is also “fuelling the biodiversity crisis, threatening drinking water sources in the UK and creating a barrier to a safe and effective circular economy”.
They said the continued use of PFAS in many consumer goods products, in spite of the existence of PFAS-free solutions, highlighted “the need for clear and ambitious legislative action that will solve this growing pollution problem and safeguard the environment for future generations”.
Rather than adopt a piecemeal approach to regulating the chemicals, they urged the government “to implement an urgent and timelined phase-out of all unnecessary uses of all PFAS”.