SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Today, the California Assembly passed Assembly Bill 1200 by a vote of 43-12. If enacted, the law would ban the toxic “forever chemicals” called PFAS from paper, paperboard or plant-based food packaging and serveware.
The measure 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.
“Federal regulations on PFAS allow companies to self-certify that a chemical used in their food packaging is safe,” said Assemblymember Ting. “That’s not good enough for me – not when our health and environment suffer the consequences. Manufacturers should use safer alternatives so that our families aren’t ingesting harmful chemicals.”
California would become the fourth state to prohibit PFAS from food packaging, joining Maine, New York and Washington.
“Because of a broken federal chemical regulatory system, states are stepping up to protect the health of its citizens from hazardous chemicals added to food packaging,” said Susan Little, the Environmental Working Group’s senior advocate for California government affairs. “This law will protect Californians by reducing their exposure to PFAS in food.”
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. In 2019, Maine passed a bill to ban the use of PFAS in food packaging as early as January 2022. And 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.
The bill also prohibits cookware companies from making false marketing claims implying that products are PFAS-free.
“PFAS are also used in nonstick coatings for cookware and bakeware, and are released into air when the pots, pans and baking sheets reach high temperatures,” Little explained. “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 also prevents companies from claiming a product is free of PFOA if another chemical in the same family is present.”
PFAS are a class of thousands of chemicals linked to 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.
“Food is a major source of exposure to PFAS, and there is no reason these chemicals should be in packaging,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG. “In addition to PFAS leaching from food packaging into food, it can accumulate in fish and meat, and farmers may inadvertently contaminate their crops with PFAS when irrigating with contaminated groundwater or from using contaminated compost.”
In 2017, an EWG report based on nationwide testing highlighted the fact that most fast food chains continued to use food wrappers, bags and boxes coated with PFAS, even after having been alerted to health concerns more than a decade earlier.
Scientists from nonprofit research organizations including EWG, federal and state regulatory agencies, and academic institutions collaborated to collect and test 327 samples used to serve food, of which 40 percent tested positive for fluorine, a chemical that indicates the presence of PFAS. The full study findings were published in a peer-reviewed manuscript 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’s Proposition 65 registry of chemicals known to the state to cause reproductive toxicity. Inclusion on the registry means products that may expose consumers to PFOA or PFOS must carry warnings.
The bill will now move to the state Senate, where it will be heard by the Environmental Quality Committee. All bills must be passed out of the legislature by the end of August.
EWG, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Clean Water Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Environmental Health are co-sponsors of the bill.
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.