LOS ANGELES – Today Attorney General Rob Bonta issued an enforcement advisory letter to manufacturers, distributors and sellers of food packaging and cookware, reminding them of their legal duty to comply with a state law on disclosing in their products the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in their products.
At a press event, Bonta emphasized the health hazards linked to PFAS exposure. He was joined by Susan Little, a senior advocate for California government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, and Max Aung, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Environmental Health at the University of Southern California.
“Like so many Californians, I am greatly concerned about PFAS exposure. These chemicals are toxic and are all around us,” said Bonta.
“As the people’s attorney, I’ve been turning that concern into concrete action by holding big PFAS manufacturers like 3M and DuPont accountable and supporting federal efforts to better protect Americans’ drinking water supply from PFAS,” he added.
“The PFAS enforcement advisory letter and the consumer alert that we are issuing today continue these important efforts to protect Californians from harm,” he said.
In 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the legislation, known as Assembly Bill 1200, that bans PFAS from paper, paperboard or plant-based food packaging, utensils and paper straws. The law took effect in January. A.B. 1200 was cosponsored by EWG.
PFAS are used in hundreds of products, from food wrappers and textile coatings to cosmetics and dental floss to guitar strings and firefighting foam.
Bonta’s enforcement advisory letter summarizes the provisions of A.B. 1200, which was authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). The law bans PFAS from materials that come into contact with food. Effective next January, it also requires companies to clearly disclose online the chemicals, including toxic PFAS, used on cookware and bakeware handles and coatings.
It also bans cookware companies from falsely claiming products are PFAS-free.
“PFAS chemicals have been a hidden threat to our health and environment for far too long,” said Ting. “I fought for the passage of A.B. 1200 and other related legislation to reduce our exposure as much as possible and to raise awareness.
“I applaud Attorney General Bonta for putting companies on notice that we are putting Californians before profits,” he added.
In 2017, EWG released a report based on nationwide tests revealing that most fast food chains continued to use wrappers, bags and boxes coated with PFAS, despite learning about PFAS health concerns more than a decade earlier.
“California has passed sensible laws to protect its residents from needless exposure to toxic PFAS,” said EWG’s Little. “PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they are among the most persistent compounds in existence. They never break down in the environment, and they build up in people.
“Exposure to PFAS isn’t just a concern – it’s a substantial health hazard.”
A 2021 study found detectable levels of PFAS in 36 of 38 paper drinking straw brands tested. The study also showed PFAS in the straws transferred into water that traveled through the straws.
The federal National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020 bans the use of PFAS in food packaging for military meals.
“Food is considered a major source of exposure to PFAS, and there is no reason for these chemicals to be in food packaging,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG. “PFAS can leach from packaging into food, and they are toxic at incredibly low concentrations.”
Safer alternatives to PFAS have proven to be as effective at repelling water and grease.
Widespread presence of PFAS
Very low doses of PFAS have been linked to suppression of the immune system. These chemicals harm development and the reproductive system, such as reduced birth weight and impacts on fertility; increase risk of certain cancers; and affect metabolism, such as changes in cholesterol and weight gain.
Last November, Bonta filed a lawsuit against 18 PFAS manufacturers, including 3M and DuPont, for endangering public health, causing irreparable harm to the state’s natural resources, and engaging in a widespread campaign to deceive the public.
In addition to EWG, A.B. 1200’s other co-sponsors included Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Clean Water Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Environmental Health.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.