Paper straws used for drinking could cause serious health problems, a new study claims.
Researchers in Europe say paper straws contain ‘forever chemicals’ that can take thousands of years to break down and have been linked to cancers, thyroid and liver problems.
Researchers studied 39 different brands of straw and found that 90 percent of the paper ones contained chemicals known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
They were found in the majority of the straws tested and were most common in those made from paper and bamboo. The only PFAS-free staws were stainless steel ones.
PFAS chemicals are potentially harmful to people, wildlife, and the environment, the scientists said.
They break down very slowly over time persisting over thousands of years and have been associated with a number of health problems, including lower response to vaccines, lower birth weight, thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels, liver damage, kidney cancer, and testicular cancer.
They are used to make everyday products, from outdoor clothing to non-stick pans, resistant to water, heat, and stains.
Dr Thimo Groffen, an environmental scientist at the University of Antwerp, said: ‘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.
‘However, the presence of PFAS in these straws means that’s not necessarily true.’
A growing number of countries, including the UK and Belgium, have banned the sale of single-use plastic products, including drinking straws, and plant-based versions have become popular alternatives.
The research team purchased 39 different brands of drinking straws made from five materials – paper, bamboo, glass, stainless steel, and plastic.
The straws, which were mainly obtained from shops, supermarkets, and fast-food restaurants, then underwent two rounds of testing for PFAS.
The majority of the brands (27/39, 69 per cent) contained PFAS, with 18 different PFAS detected in total.
The paper straws were most likely to contain PFAS, with the chemicals detected in 18/20 (90 per cent) of the brands tested.
PFAS were also detected in 4/5 (80 per cent) brands of bamboo straw, three-quarters of the plastic straw brands, and 2/5 (40 per cent) brands of glass straw.
They were not detected in any of the five types of steel straw tested.
PFAS can remain in the body for many years and concentrations can build up over time.
‘Small amounts of PFAS, while not harmful in themselves, can add to the chemical load already present in the body,’ said Dr Groffen.