You know those paper straws that so many bars and restaurants try to guilt you into using because they are supposedly “eco-friendly” and better for the environment? Well, that may or may not be true, but researchers have found that they contain toxic chemicals that could be hazardous to your health!
Straws made from plant-based materials, such as paper and bamboo, are often advertised as being more sustainable and eco-friendly than those made from plastic,” said researcher Thimo Groffen, an environmental scientist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. “However, the presence of PFAS in these straws means that’s not necessarily true.”
For this study, published Aug. 24 in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants, Groffen and colleagues tested 39 straw brands in a variety of materials for poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Straws were paper, bamboo, glass, stainless steel, and plastic. Each straw went through two rounds of testing for PFAS.
PFAS was found in 69% of the straws. Testing detected 18 different PFAS.
These chemicals were found in 90% of paper straws, about 80% of bamboo straws, 75% of plastic straws, and 40% of glass straw brands.
PFAS was not detected in any of the five types of steel straws tested.
The most commonly found PFAS was perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been banned worldwide since 2020.
Testing also detected trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) and trifluoromethanesulfonic acid (TFMS). These “ultra-short-chain” PFAS are highly water soluble, and so might leach out of straws into drinks, according to the study.
These all may pose a health risk because people put straws in their mouths, and these chemicals can build up in the body for years.
It’s not known if the straws contained the PFAS to waterproof them or because of contamination from soil used to grow materials or water used in manufacturing.
PFAS are used in many everyday products, including nonstick pans and outdoor clothing. They make these items resistant to water, heat, and stains but break down very slowly over time and can persist in the environment for thousands of years.
They’re associated with health problems, such as lower response to vaccines, lower birth weight, thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels, liver damage, kidney cancer, and testicular cancer.
Groffen said that if you must use straw, stainless steel is probably best. “We did not detect any PFAS in stainless steel straws, so I would advise consumers to use this type of straw — or just avoid using straws at all.”