Pizza boxes contain chemicals that may be worse for you than pizza

Diminishing returns.
Diminishing returns.
Image: Reuters/Baz Ratner
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Even the packaging of some greasy, late-night indulgence foods may be bad for you.

Three substances commonly found in paper and cardboard food containers were banned this week from food packaging by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in a long-delayed response to a 2010 petition filed by a group including the National Resources Defense Council.

The substances are part of a group of chemicals called perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, and are found in many products, including electronics, breathable fabrics, and shoes. They can remain in the body and the environment for years at low levels, raising concerns about eating foods from PFAS-treated containers, where the chemicals act as oil repellants.

It’s unclear exactly what kind of harm these PFASs could actually cause, but the report accompanying the FDA’s Jan. 4 announcement states that ”there is no longer a reasonable certainty of no harm.” In other words, there may be negative health consequences from repeated exposure to PFASs, though the science is still out on what those negative effects may be.

This decision is an example of the precautionary principle (pdf), which states that health and environmental exposure to new substances should be avoided until all the risks are well-understood. Or, as the Science and Environmental Health Network puts it, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Chemicals related to PFASs, known as perfluorooctanoic acids, or PFOAs, have been connected to thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, and preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening high blood pressure in pregnant women. PFOAs are typically found in non-stick coatings on pots and pans.

Certain types of PFASs have already been discontinued by DuPont, which manufactures PFOAs and PFASs. In May 2015, a group of scientists published a statement of concerns for the long-term risks of exposures to these substances.

Anyone opposed to the ban of these three chemicals may file an objection with the FDA through February 3, 2016.

For consumers, this ruling only means that the packaging for delicious, oily foods may be slightly less resistant to greasy goodness. There’s no word yet on what new packaging may or may not contain, but for now, here’s one more reason to eat your pizza hot and fresh on the premises, instead of ordering in.