(Wikimedia Commons)
  • Six out of eight commonly used cling-wrap brands in South Africa have high levels of chemicals researchers consider unsafe.
  • Putting these plastics in direct contact with food, as is common, is a bad idea, says one author – and putting plastic-wrapped food into a microwave is worse.
  • Cling wrap safety has improved since 1997, but the risks remain too high.


A new study has found what researchers consider dangerously high levels of various chemicals – implicated in hormone disruption and cancer – in six out of eight commonly-used brands of cling wrap in South Africa.

Only two of the brands tested were not found to have dangerous components that could leech into food in ordinary use. Both those brands carried a "smart choice" seal from the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa), the researchers said.

The study does not name the brands considered dangerous.

When in direct contact with food, dangerous chemicals leech from plastic wrap, says Tiaan de Jager, dean of health sciences at the University of Pretoria and one of the authors of the study. Warming cling-wrapped food up in the microwave makes the effect worse.

"The more commercial, bigger brands used in supermarkets were those that contained some of the high-risk chemicals," he told Business Insider South Africa.

The study investigated the concentration of various endocrine-disrupting chemicals (para-Nonylphenol (p-NP); Bisphenol A (BPA); Di (2-ethylhexyl) adipate (DEHA), and selected phthalates) in the eight most common brands of cling wrap used in South Africa.

Endocrine disrupters are considered particularly dangerous during foetal development and early childhood.

The chemicals are not highly regulated in part because their effects are not necessarily immediate and direct, says De Jager.

"It is not that if you have a certain level of concentration you are going to develop breast cancer; there are individual differences, genetic differences that determine your susceptibility, it is not just environmental."

Some of the compounds also have complex "synergistic and additive effects" when it comes to the risk of non-communicable diseases, he says.

"But in the end you need to try and limit your exposure to these compounds."

Despite the high prevalence of chemicals considered dangerous, the study noted a lower level of two endocrine disrupters (BPA and p-NP) compared to findings in 1997. This indicates manufacturers are introducing safer alternatives, says De Jager.

The study was carried out by the Environmental Chemical Pollution and Health Research Unit of the University of Pretoria with collaborators from Stellenbosch University and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

It is due to be published in the journal Human and Ecological Risk Assessment.

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