Substances used in packing, storing and processing consumer foods may be harmful to humans in the long term, according to environmental scientists in a commentary.

The scientists said that these synthetic chemicals are not inert, and therefore can leach into the foods humans consume. The chemicals are regulated, however, chronic consumption of packaged or processed foods may expose consumers to a lifetime of low levels of the chemicals which, the authors write, have little known and potentially harmful effects.

In the commentary, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the authors argue that lifelong exposure to these food contact materials (FCMs) "is a cause for concern for several reasons." In addition to the long term effects, exposure at vulnerable stages of human development, such as pregnant women and their unborn babies, is "surely not justified on scientific grounds."

 Cancer causing materials, such as formaldehyde, are legally used in FCMs. Certain p[plastic bottles and melamine tableware contain formaldehyde, but at levels so low they are considered safe. Hormone disruption can result from certain FCMs, including bisphenol A, tributyltin, triclosan, and phthalates, according to a press release discussing the commentary. These chemicals, along with over 4000 others, make up the total number of chemicals intentionally used in FCMs.

"Whereas the science for some of these substances is being debated and policy makers struggle to satisfy the needs of stakeholders, consumers remain exposed to these chemicals daily, mostly unknowingly," the authors indicated.

According to the authors, routine toxicology analysis doesn't test for potential cellular changes caused by FCMs which "casts serious doubts on the adequacy of chemical regulatory procedures."

While the authors urged the study of the effects of these chemicals, they admit there is no baseline for comparison since there are no unexposed populations which could act as a control group.

"Since most foods are packaged, and the entire population is likely to be exposed, it is of utmost importance that gaps in knowledge are reliably and rapidly filled," they urged.