The shift towards eco-friendly products has seen an increase in the use of paper and bamboo straws, seen as sustainable substitutes for now-banned plastic variants. However, recent European research uncovers a less savory truth: most of these “green” straws contain PFAS, chemicals linked to various health problems.
Investigating straws from a variety of sources, including retailers and restaurants, the study discovered PFAS in a staggering 90% of paper straw brands. Although PFASs were less common in glass or plastic straws, the research did not determine whether drinks drawn through them could carry these chemicals.
The main culprit, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is banned globally from 2020. Interestingly, the study revealed that steel straws were completely free of PFAS.
Although the levels of PFAS detected were relatively low, the health implications over time are worrisome. Prolonged exposure or accumulation of these chemicals is linked to a number of health problems, including decreased vaccine effectiveness, reduced birth weight, thyroid disorders, increased cholesterol, liver failure and a high risk of cancer, especially kidney and testicular. Researchers believe that the addition of PFAS to paper straws, often for water-resistant properties, is the main reason for their prevalence.
Dr Thimo Groffen of the University of Antwerp, inspired by similar findings in the US, emphasized the cautionary note. Advocating the use of steel straws, he also questioned the general need for straws. Commenting on the findings, Dr Groffen commented: “Although considered organic, the chemical composition of plant-based straws might suggest otherwise.”
Beyond straws, PFASs, known for their resistance attributes, are found in a variety of household items, from outdoor clothing to specific non-stick cookware.