House OKs bill to ban toxic chemicals from food packaging


STATE HOUSE – The House today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend prohibiting per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from food packaging made or sold in Rhode Island. The bill now goes to the Senate.

PFAS chemicals are used as grease-proofing agents in fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, take-out paperboard containers, and pet food bags to prevent oil and grease from foods from leaking through the packaging.

While they’ve existed since the 1930s, research into the effects of PFAS as a contaminant in the environment is still emerging. It is known that they are water-soluble, long-lasting in the environment and accumulate in the human body, and that, in higher concentrations, they are toxic. PFAS are commonly used in nonstick and stain-repellent coatings, as well as firefighting foam and thousands of other applications. People are exposed to the chemicals in many ways, but the most potent risk comes from consuming contaminated water or food.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has resisted calls by public health groups and environmentalists to regulate the substances. The Food and Drug Administration allows their use in food packaging, but United States manufacturers have voluntarily worked to reduce releases of some PFAS due to their toxic effects on human health.

“While we don’t know everything we need to know about the full effects of PFAS on the environment or humans, there’s evidence linking them to cancer, hormone suppression, liver and thyroid problems. There’s growing concern among scientists about the effects of PFAS, enough so that the risks outweigh the benefits of having a grease-free paper wrapper on a cheeseburger. There are alternative food packaging options, and we should use those instead of subjecting Rhode Islanders to the risks of PFAS contaminating their food,” said Representative Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown).

The legislation (2022-H 7438A) prohibits food packaging to which PFAS have been intentionally added in any amount from being manufactured, knowingly sold, or distributed in Rhode Island, as of Jan. 1, 2024.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton) is sponsoring companion legislation (2022-S 2044).

The House bill is cosponsored by Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), Rep. David Morales (D-Dist. 7, Providence), Rep. Alex D. Marszalkowski (D-Dist. 52, Cumberland), Rep. Michelle E. McGaw (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton), Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown), Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown), Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) and Rep. Rebecca Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence).