CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Researchers have found low levels of the toxic chemical C8 in a wide variety of foods, ranging from hamburgers and bacon to tilapia, olive oil and peanut butter, according to a new scientific paper.
C8 was detected in 17 of 31 types of food purchases from five Dallas-area grocery stores and tested by researchers at the University of Texas and several other institutions.
The chemical was measured in concentrations ranging from 0.07 parts per billion in potatoes to 1.8 parts per billion in olive oil, according to the paper, published last week in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
C8 was also found in, among other things, salmon, catfish fillets and frozen fish sticks, as well as in butter and margarine.
Currently, the U.S. has no limits or recommended guidelines for the amount of C8 in food. But, the detected concentrations of C8 and other specific chemicals studied do not exceed reference doses for what might be considered safe based on animal study data.
Still, the study authors noted it is “worth considering possible increased effects that may result from ingesting mixtures of these chemicals.
“By investigating single compounds it is possible to tease apart the distinct effects due solely to that compound,” the study said. “However, in real life, it is very rare for an individual to be exposed to only one chemical at a time.”
The new paper is part of a broader study of contamination of U.S. food by persistent organic pollutants such as pesticides and perfluorinated compounds, PFCs.
In West Virginia, PFCs have become a major issue because the water supplies for thousands of Parkersburg-area residents have been contaminated with the toxic chemical. C8 exposure has been linked to a variety of health problems, including liver damage, immune problems, developmental abnormalities, birth defects and high cholesterol.
C8 is another name for perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. C8 and other PFCs have been widely used in nonstick coatings, stain-resistant fabrics and food package coatings.
Around the world, researchers are finding that people have C8 and other PFCs in their blood. Evidence continues to mount about the dangers of these chemicals, even at very low levels — and at levels the general public may be exposed to — but U.S. regulators have yet to set federal standards for emissions or human exposure.
Scientists are still sorting out how humans have been exposed to PFCs. Previous studies have focused on drinking water, Teflon pans, food and food packaging, and household dust as potential routes.
Previous food studies found the highest levels in microwave popcorn and roast beef. In 2008, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists pulled a study that warned Americans could be exposed to C8 when they eat chicken eggs.
The Dallas study said the “relatively high levels” of C8 detected might be “attributed to the materials used in the processing and packaging of the food.” Some food packaging materials contain trace amounts of C8, and PFCs have been shown to migrate from packaging material into food oils.
“However, more research needs to be conducted to determine routes of PFC contamination of food,” the study said.