SACRAMENTO, Calif. – State legislation that would ban the toxic “forever chemicals” called PFAS from plant-based food packaging passed out of the California Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee on Wednesday.
Assembly Bill 1200, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would also require manufacturers to label cookware that contains toxic chemicals, and to publish on their websites a list of those chemicals present in their pots and pans.
PFAS are a large group of chemicals that cause increased risk of cancer, harm to fetal development and reduced vaccine effectiveness. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment and they build up in our blood and organs.
California joins other states in reducing PFAS exposure from food and food packaging.
In 2018, Washington was the first state to ban the use of PFAS in food packaging, a law that takes effect at the first of next year. Last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a ban on PFAS in paper- and plant-based food packaging, which will take effect at the end of next year. The National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020 also bans the use of PFAS in food packaging for military meals after October 1.
“Food is a major source of exposure to PFAS,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. “In addition to PFAS leaching from food packaging into food, farmers may inadvertently contaminate their crop fields with PFAS when irrigating with contaminated groundwater or from compost.”
The bill also prohibits cookware companies from making marketing claims that products are PFAS-free.
“PFAS are used in nonstick coatings for cookware and bakeware, and are released into air when the pots, pans and baking sheets reach high temperatures,” said Susan Little, EWG’s senior advocate for California government affairs. “Products that claim to be produced without PFOA, the PFAS chemical that once was used to make DuPont’s Teflon, are often coated with another form of PFAS. This bill prevents companies from claiming a product is free of PFOA if another chemical in the same family is present.”
In 2017, an EWG report based on nationwide testing found many fast food chains used food wrappers, bags and boxes coated with PFAS.
Scientists from nonprofit research organizations including EWG, federal and state regulatory agencies, and academic institutions collaborated to collect and test samples of sandwich and pastry wrappers, french fry bags, pizza boxes, and other paper and paperboard products from 27 fast food chains and several local restaurants in five regions of the U.S.
The researchers found that of the 327 samples used to serve food, 40 percent tested positive for fluorine, a chemical that indicates the presence of PFAS. A peer-reviewed study was also published by the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
In November 2017, two of the most notorious PFAS chemicals – PFOA, the Teflon chemical, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard – were added to California Proposition 65’s list of chemicals known to the state to cause reproductive toxicity. The state already requires Proposition 65 warnings on products that may expose consumers to PFOA or PFOS.
The legislation is sponsored by EWG, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Clean Water Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Environmental Health. The bill will be heard by the full California Assembly on April 19.
The Environmental Working Group 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.