Sipping cold beverages through paper straws, often considered eco-friendly alternatives to plastic, might not be as safe as previously thought, according to a study conducted by Belgian researchers. The study has raised concerns about potentially toxic poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) present in paper straws that could pose health risks to humans, wildlife, and the environment.
While paper straws have been promoted as a sustainable option compared to plastic straws, this study reveals that many brands of paper and bamboo straws contain PFAS, which are known for their long-lasting and potentially harmful effects on human health. The study suggests that PFAS could accumulate in the body over time and may lead to various health issues, including lower vaccine response, thyroid disease, liver damage, kidney cancer, and more.
The researchers analyzed a range of straws made from different materials and found that 18 out of 20 brands of paper straw tested positive for PFAS. However, the study did not investigate whether PFAS leaked from the straws into the liquids consumed through them.
The presence of PFAS in paper straws is attributed to their water-repellent coating, often used to enhance their durability. These substances are widely used in various products due to their resistance to water, heat, and stains. However, since 2020, one of the most commonly found PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), has been globally prohibited due to its health risks.
Dr. Thimo Groffen, from the University of Antwerp, highlighted that the study challenges the perception of plant-based materials like paper and bamboo straws as more sustainable and eco-friendly. The researchers emphasized that although PFAS concentrations in straws may be low, their long-term effects on human health cannot be ignored.
The study calls for increased awareness about the potential risks associated with using paper straw and suggests exploring alternative materials or coatings that do not pose health hazards. As consumers seek more sustainable options, it’s crucial to ensure that these alternatives are safe for both human health and the environment.