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'They're not looking at the unintended consequences': Study highlights concerning toxins found in paper straws

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A recent study out of Belgium has discovered paper straws containing poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as forever chemicals.

The research found paper straws were more likely to be contaminated with PFAS than any other type of straw. 

"We know that these are toxic, harmful, persistent and bio-accumulative compounds," said Dr. Juan Jose Alava, a UBC professor who is also the principal investigator with the Ocean Pollution Research Unit.

"If they accumulate, we know they are immunotoxic."

Earlier this year the toxins were found in orcas off the B.C. coast. PFAS are commonly used in items, including straws, as a water repellent. 

In April 2020, the City of Vancouver banned all plastic straws, resulting in many businesses switching to paper ones. The provincial and federal governments are set to ban plastic straws in December of this year.

A representative with Health Canada told CTV News that the federal government is researching the PFA issue, and new regulations are coming next year.

"Should the final state of PFAS report confirm that the class of PFAS is harmful to human health and/or the environment, the government will take risk management action with the objective of reducing environmental and human exposure," the federal agency said.

A representative with the City of Vancouver told CTV News that businesses must have straws on-hand for accessibility purposes, but recommended people minimize their use.

"Through education, the city encourages businesses to provide reusable straws, and also encourages the public to skip single-use straws, including single-use paper straws, unless they need one," said Doug Thomas, from the City of Vancouver Engineering department.

Susanna Carson, owner of a Vancouver-based compostable packaging business, says she's warned government officials for years about the dangers of paper products.

"I am completely frustrated with the way that the government has rolled out the regulations," said Carson.

Carson says many of her products fall under the new government bans, including a corn-based bioplastic straw that she says is safer than paper.

"They're not looking at the unintended consequences," said Carson. "They're not integrating the best science into their decisions."

Health Canada didn't say what would replace paper straws if their data concluded the PFA levels were found to be harmful. The Belgian study found that re-usable stainless steel straws contained no traces of PFAS.  

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