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Chipotle and Sweetgreen Bowls Contain Cancer-Linked ‘Forever Chemicals’

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Chipotle restaurant workers fill orders for customers on the day that the company announced it will only use non-GMO ingredients in its food on April 27, 2015 in Miami. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Those popular burrito bowls at Chipotle and those takeaway salad bowls at Sweetgreens that see lunch rush lines going out the door and down the block have a dirty little secret, according to an independent investigation from the non-profit news site, New Food Economy.


The plain, beige fiber bowls that are designed to withstand grease so they don't turn to mush when they get wet are touted for their durability and for being fully compostable. They are even certified by third-party groups like the Biodegradable Products Institute and they feel like they would turn back into dirt if they were mixed into a compost heap. Yet, New Food Economy, found that all of those molded fiber bowls contain PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. PFAs are a wide-range of more than 4,000 fluorinated compounds that do not biodegrade.

The chemicals lining the bowls usurp the fully compostable claim, since those chemicals will never break down. When the bowls are tossed into a compost heap, the chemical leech into the ground. So, rather than make black gold for farmers, the bowls may actually be making toxic compost.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS are man-made chemicals that are "very persistent in the environment and in the human body — meaning they don't break down and they can accumulate over time," as People reported.

To test the chemical composition of the bowls, New Food Economy visited 14 different restaurants of 8 separate chains in New York City. It found that every single bowl it collected was lined with fluorine. The worst offenders were bowls from two different Dig Inn (now Dig) locations which had more than 1,900 fluorine parts per million.

Then there's the issue of human health. What does it mean for our health when we eat a salad off of a bowl lined with fluorinated compounds? That is not clear, but probably nothing. Exposure to the worst PFAS has been linked to kidney and testicular cancers as well as thyroid disorders and colitis, according to New Food Economy. Yet, those cancer-causing chemicals are either not present in the fiber bowls or they are not present at levels that approach toxicity. Furthermore, while the bowls contain the PFAS, any trace absorption into your food or onto your hands is minimal.

In a statement to Newsweek, Chipotle said the company only partnered with suppliers with proper FDA certification regarding fluorochemical sciences and food safety.

That is not to say the bowls are safe for the environment. PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals," will not just rot naturally. So, you may handle a bowl for five minutes, but the chemicals inside it will stick around for generations, according to the New Food Economy.

The new findings will upset the infrastructure of municipal composters who have already collected thousands and upon thousands of fiber bowls. Furthermore, restaurant chains specializing in takeaway bowls will have to work with manufacturers on a different dish. They will have to work quickly, since San Francisco, a mecca for fast-casual dining, will ill effectively ban bowls that have been intentionally manufactured with PFAS starting on January 1st, as the New Food Economy reports.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.