What do non-stick pans, waterproof gear, fire-fighting foam, microwave popcorn bags, and fast food wrappers have in common? They can all contain toxic nonstick PFAS chemicals (per and polyfluorylalkyl substances). PFAS chemicals repel both oil and water, but with this special chemistry comes a special problem: they are so highly persistent that scientists call them “virtually indestructible.” Their widespread usage has made them global pollutants that threaten the health of people and our environment.1

PFAS CHEMICALS ARE CAUSE FOR CONCERN

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that these chemicals are toxic. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to kidney and testicular cancer, hormone disruption, liver toxicity, harm to the immune system, and reduced birth weight. Some chemical companies have switched to a new gerenation of PFAS chemicals, but these chemicals are just as concerning as the older ones.

In fact, over 200 leading scientists from around the world have called on the international community to “cooperate in limiting the production and use of PFASs and in developing safer nonfluorinated alternatives” and have urged governments to “enact legislation to require only essential uses of PFASs.”2

PFAS CHEMICALS ARE WIDESPREAD IN FOOD PACKAGING

  • Recent testing by the Washington Department of Ecology found PFAS chemicals in all 30 microwave popcorn bags
  • In a 2016 study of 328 popular brand food packaging items – food wrappers, french fry boxes, and bakery papers – 40% tested positive for fluorinated ch The packages were bought in several states, including in Western Washington.3

PFAS CHEMICALS MIGRATE FROM PACKAGING TO FOOD

PFAS chemicals get into food when food comes in contact with PFAS treated packaging. PFAS chemicals have been found to migrate from microwave popcorn bags, sandwich wrap, muffin papers, and food wrappers. The amount of PFAS chemicals moving into food increases with heating, like in the case of microwave popcorn.4,5

While the US Food and Drug Administration is tasked with regulating food contact materials, the agency’s oversight is weak. While approval for a few PFASs has been withdrawn, the FDA still allows over 60 PFASs to be used in food contact materials.

SAFER ALTERNATIVES ARE AVAILABLE

Companies are switching to safer alternatives. The European company Coop has developed a PFAS-free microwave popcorn bag that is currently in use. Over half of food packaging tested in the 2016 study of over 300 food packaging materials did not contain PFAS, proving alternatives are aleady in use.

STATES ARE TAKING THE LEAD

As PFAS chemicals continue to raise concerns across the country, several states are considering taking action on the chemicals. Currently, California and Vermont are both considering legislation on the issue of PFASs in food packaging.

WHAT WASHINGTON STATE CAN DO

The Healthy Food Packaging Act (HB 2658/SB 6396) will ban the use of PFAS chemicals in food packaging. PFAS chemicals in food packaging pose a serious problem for our health. We should not be treated as guinea pigs when safer alternatives to these toxic chemicals are available.

Washington state has the opportunity with the Healthy Food Packaging Act to protect public health by eliminating the unnecessary use of these chemicals in food packaging.

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REFERENCES

  1. Fluorotechnology: Critical to modern FluoroCouncil Web site.
  2. Blum A, Balan SA, Scheringer M, Trier X, Goldenman G, Cousins IT, Diamond M, Fletcher T, Higgins C, Lindeman AE, Peaslee G, de Voogt P, Wang Z, Weber 2015. The Madrid statement on poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). Environ Health Perspect 123:A107–A111; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1509934
  3. Schaider LA, Balan SA, Blum A, et Fluorinated compounds in U.S. fast food packaging. Environ Sci Technol Lett. 2017; 4(3): 105-111. doi:10.1021/acs.estlett.6b00435
  4. Trier X, Granby K, Christensen Polyfluorinated surfactants (PFS) in paper and board coatings for food packaging. Environ Sci Pollut Res. 2011; 18: 1108-1120. doi: 10.1007/s11356-010-0439-3
  5. Begley TH, Hsu W, Noonan G, Diachenko Migration of fluorochemical paper additives from food-contact paper into foods and food simulants. Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess. 2008; 25(3): 384-390. doi: 10.1080/0265203070151378.
  6. Muller , Fengler, R., Still M., et al. Poster presentation at the 5th International Symposium on Food Packaging, 14-16 November 2012, Berlin.