Pizza is typically thought of us our friend. In some ways—such as the recent example of its use as a suicide disincentive by San Jose police—you could say that it saves our lives, or at least improves them with its delicious ways. But what if there was a sinister side to pizza lurking behind its cheesy exterior? What if pizza … kills babies?
Well, that's not exactly it. Pardon our hyperbole. But it is a little shocking to hear that exposure to pizza boxes can increase a pregnant woman's likelihood of miscarriage by a whopping 16 times. A lady with a bun in the oven is also 16 times as likely to lose her baby if she spends too much time around burger wrappers and microwaveable popcorn packaging. And no, it's not about the food itself. (We waxed more yesterday on the perils of microwave popcorn.)
Though it sounds odd, this was the conclusion gleaned from a recent study from the University of Southern Denmark in accordance with the Odense Child Cohort. Nearly 400 women participated in the study, 56 of whom had miscarriages by their twelfth week of pregnancy.
The study focused on a family of chemicals called perfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS) that are commonly found in greaseproof packaging like pizza boxes, hamburger wrappers, and even candy wrappers. They're also used in weatherproof furniture and workout clothing. The 56 women who miscarried had elevated blood levels of PFAS, which are known endocrine disruptors. While PFAS have long been known to have adverse developmental and reproductive effects, even the researchers were shocked at just how powerful of an impact these substances had.
Lead researcher Tina Kold Jensen commented to Danish newspaper Fyens Stiftstidende, "At first I did not believe it … Usually we find a half or two times greater risk, but 16 is much more than we expected." She added that these ingredients are not required to be listed on labels because they're technically just part of the packaging, not the food. Consumer advocate Claus Jørgensen noted that one of the biggest problems with PFAS is that they "build up in the body and never really leave again."
You may have heard tell of these multisyllabic chemicals before. In 2008, California State Senator Ellen Corbett introduced a bill to the legislature that would've banned perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and several other related chemicals in food packaging, had it not been ultimately vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.
As Newsweek notes, the EU has has already severely limited the use of certain perfluorinated compounds in household products, especially perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).
Jensen also told Newsweek, "I'm not a politician but I think there has to be a political decision to ban these chemicals because women should be able to eat whatever is in the stores. It shouldn't be up to the individual woman to figure out what she can eat." The Danish Environmental Protection Agency is currently investigating the matter to improve safety for consumers.
Now, researchers are also concerned that PFAS may have similarly negative impacts on sperm count and quality in men. But they acknowledge that a larger sample size is needed to draw more definitive conclusions between PFAS exposure and reproductive health.
Even so, the wary eye cast toward these chemicals may be looking a lot more justified.