In the past two weeks, fast-food giants McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Corporation have been hit with class action lawsuits in Illinois and California over the alleged presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in their packaging. PFAS are synthetic chemicals that can be harmful to both the environment and humans, and have been linked to cancer, liver damage, fertility issues and other diseases. The complaints contend that PFAS migrates from the food packaging into the food itself. The lawsuits also allege that both McDonald's and Burger King conceal the fact that they using PFAS in their packaging, in part by promoting themselves as committed to sustainable, environmentally friendly, and safe food production.
These cases appear to be the proverbial tip of the iceberg that is the impending litigation over the use of PFAS in consumer products and food. The fundamental principles of toxicology will require plaintiffs to prove a causal connection between their PFAS exposure and disease. But many are concerned that the future volume of these cases, coupled with the media attention they will undoubtedly receive, will cause judges and juries to ignore the science and find for plaintiffs simply because PFAS is involved.