State Seek to Address PFAS Exposure Through Food Packaging

July 18, 2019|11:09 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

Over the past few years, rising health concerns related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have resulted in state policymakers taking action to reduce and regulate PFAS exposure. PFAS are a family of man-made chemicals that have been used for decades in industrial and consumer products such as water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics, paints, firefighting foams, and cookware. During production and use, PFAS can migrate into soil, water, and air. Because of their wide use and the fact that they do not easily breakdown in the environment, PFAS can accumulate over time in people and animals. In some instances, exposure to and absorption of certain PFAS has been associated with harmful health effects.

Another way people may be exposed to PFAS is through the chemical’s use in food packaging. Recently, FDA released their findings from their initial testing of PFAS in samples of commonly consumed foods in the United States. While FDA did not detect PFAS in a majority of the food samples tested and did not find clear evidence that PFAS is a food safety risk, some states have taken and considered legislative action to address the use of PFAS in food packaging. Below is a brief summary of these state policy approaches, including prohibiting the use, sale, or distribution of food packaging containing PFAS, as well as proposing studies to assess the application of PFAS in food packaging and find safer alternatives to PFAS use in food packaging.

Restricting Use of PFAS in Food Packaging
Both Massachusetts and Maine have specifically targeted PFAS and other chemicals used in food packaging. In Massachusetts, the legislature is considering a set of companion bills (H 3839, S 1315) that would prohibit the manufacture or sale of food packaging containing PFAS. In June, Maine enacted LD 1433 to prohibit the sale of food packaging that contain PFAS in any amount greater than an incidental presence (i.e., the presence is unintended or undesired). The law further states that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection cannot prohibit food packaging containing PFAS unless it determines there is a safer alternative than PFAS that is readily available at a comparable cost and performs as well. Another exemption to the prohibition applies to manufacturers with less than $1 billion total annual national sales of food and beverage products.

Evaluating PFAS in Food Packaging
In New Jersey, the legislature is considering a bill that would direct the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to study and regulate PFAS in food packaging (A 5099). NJDEP would conduct and publish a study assessing the use of PFAS in food packaging and determine whether a safer alternative is available. If NJDEP finds there is a safer alternative to PFAS in food packaging, the manufacture and sale of food packaging utilizing PFAS would be prohibited in the state. If a safer alternative is not found, NJDEP would reassess the use of PFAS in food packaging every three years.

Given the continued unknown health impacts of PFAS exposure, state health officials are well-positioned to work with state and federal agencies to address our gaps in research and with legislators who aim to reduce risks associated with PFAS exposure. In addition, state health officials have an opportunity to work towards effective public communication and education about the risks and mitigation of PFAS exposure. As this issue moves forward, ASTHO will continue to monitor and inform its members about the policies being developed to address it.