Coffee, eggs and rice could contain high levels of ‘forever-chemicals’ linked to cancer, scientists warn

COFFEE, eggs, rice and seafood could contain toxic chemicals linked to cancer, a new study suggests.

Researchers found people who consumed more of all four typically had higher levels of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their plasma and breast milk.

Foods like eggs and rice may contain high levels of 'forever chemicals', a new study suggests


Foods like eggs and rice may contain high levels of ‘forever chemicals’, a new study suggestsCredit: Getty

PFAS are a class of synthetic chemicals widely used in industrial and consumer products – everything from detergents and food packaging to nonstick pans and carpets.

They are often dubbed “forever chemicals” as they don’t naturally break down and may never leave the body once consumed.

Previous research has linked PFAS to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, fertility issues and other serious health problems.

The new study, published in Science of the Total Environment, tested samples from 3,000 expectant mums aged 18 to 45 from New Hampshire, US.

Scientists at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College found those who ate more fish or seafood, eggs, coffee and white rice during pregnancy had higher concentrations of PFAS in their plasma and milk.

This was still the case after adjusting for sociodemographic, lifestyle and reproductive factors, as well as the point at which the samples were taken.

The presence of chemicals in rice is thought to stem from contaminated soil or agricultural water.

It could also come from the pans used in cooking, the researchers said.

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For eggs, the culprits could be PFAS-laden sewage sludge used in farming, the feed given to the chickens or the fact many backyard animals are fed table scraps.

Water used for brewing, contaminated soil or the beans themselves could be to blame for the PFAS in coffee, the authors suspect.

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Previous studies suggest coffee filters, paper cups and other food packaging also commonly contain the chemicals.

Widespread water pollution likely explains the presence in seafood, experts say.

Campaigners want to see a major reduction in the use of PFAS.

Now we’re in a situation where they’re everywhere and are going to stick around

Megan RomanoResearcher

Lead author Megan Romano told The Guardian: “The results definitely point toward the need for environmental stewardship, and keeping PFAS out of the environment and food chain.

“Now we’re in a situation where they’re everywhere and are going to stick around even if we do aggressive remediation.

“Our study is among the most comprehensive to date, and among the first to identify important dietary variables associated with plasma and milk PFAS.

“Our findings suggest that certain dietary factors and diet quality scores during pregnancy may influence PFAS concentrations in both maternal plasma and human milk, which could inform targeted interventions and dietary guidelines to reduce PFAS exposure for both birthing people.”

She added that diets high in fruit, whole grains and dietary fibre were associated with lower levels of some PFAS.

Eating a varied diet so no one protein source comprises too large of a proportion of intake is beneficial, Romano also said.

“That helps you not only reduce your exposure to PFAS but other contaminants we might anticipate are in food,” she said.

How am I being exposed to PFAS?

You may not realise it but chances are you already have come into contact with PFAS, a lot.

They have been detected in air, water, soils, sediments, and in rain at levels that would be considered unsafe in drinking water in some countries.

Here is a list of all the things the chemicals have been found in, so far:

  • Soil and water that helps grow food
  • Certain food packaging
  • Some processing equipment
  • Rain
  • Sea foam
  • Certain foods, including fish, meat, dairy, grains, fruit and veg
  • Public water systems
  • Makeup, including: foundation, waterproof mascara, lip products, lotions, cleansers, nail polish, shaving cream, eyeliner, eye shadow
  • Food wrappers
  • Microwaveable popcorn bags
  • Takeout containers
  • Pet food bags
  • Carpet
  • Leather
  • Clothing
  • Packaging material
  • Nonstick cookware

Source: WebMD

Earlier this year, PFAS were discovered in half the fruit and vegetables from UK supermarkets.

Strawberries were found to be the worst offenders, containing the highest levels of these PFAS, with 95 per cent of the samples analysed being contaminated.

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This was followed by 61 per cent of grape samples tested, 56 per cent of cherry samples, 42 per cent of spinach samples and 38 per cent of tomatoes.

An earlier study discovered the chemicals in contact lenses.