CR found ‘forever chemicals’ in bowls, bags, plates, and wrappers, even from some companies that say they’ve phased them out.
In 1938, a 27-year-old chemist named Roy Plunkett stumbled across a new type of chemical, one with a bond so strong it would end up sticking around long after he died—in fact, almost forever.
Today, this practically unbreakable compound, created when the elements carbon and fluorine are fused, can be found in the air and the water, as well as in our bodies, our food, and our homes. That’s because in the decades since Plunkett’s discovery, thousands of substances that rely on this type of carbon-fluorine bond have been created and added to a wide variety of products to make them resistant to heat, water, oil, and corrosion.
These per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as “forever chemicals,” can be found not only in nonstick pans and waterproof gear but also in the grease-resistant packaging that holds your food from takeout chains and supermarkets. Packaging made with PFAS often resembles paper or cardboard—a seemingly virtuous alternative to plastic—but salad dressing and fry oil do not leak through.
In recent decades, PFAS exposure has been linked to a growing list of problems, including immune system suppression, lower birth weight, and increased risk for some cancers. This raises alarms about the use of these compounds, especially in items such as burger wrappers and salad bowls.