Unveiling plastic food packaging chemicals’ mixtures: a combined effect-directed strategy to assess environmental exposure and health impacts
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Plastic packaging is a dominant sector within the plastic industry, primarily finding applications in food packaging. Chemical substances are intentionally incorporated into plastic food packaging to impart specific product characteristics or streamline production in compliance with EU No 10/2011. However, unintentional substances can also be present as contaminants or transformation products. These substances may leach from the packaging, particularly during reuse, recycling, exposure to elevated temperatures and ultraviolet radiation (UV) or microwaving, contaminating the stored food and beverages and the surrounding environment, including air, water, soil, and sediments. Some authorised chemicals that can migrate from plastic food packaging, such as bisphenol A and phthalate esters, are already recognised for their high toxicological risk. The core issue lies in the limited comprehension of these mixtures' chemical composition, exposure levels, and toxicological properties, which raises substantial concerns about potential human health risks. Our research investigates these aspects by applying a combined effect-directed methodology. Migration experiments will be conducted under varying conditions and environmental sampling at critical locations. One of our key objectives is to unveil the essential factors influencing the migration of chemicals from plastic food packaging and to illuminate the types of packaging and conditions most susceptible to this phenomenon. In vitro assays will be implied to account for ingestion and inhalation exposure routes and assess hazard endpoints such as genotoxicity and endocrine disruption. This approach will enable us to prioritise mixtures of concern for subsequent chemical analysis. To uncover the compositions of these mixtures, these will be attentively identified by employing non-target screening alongside computational predictions for identifying unknown signals. By combining chemical analysis, in vitro approach, chemical analysis and predictive tools, this project aims to construct a comprehensive framework for effect-directed evaluation of plastic food packaging-associated chemicals' mixtures.