Assembly votes to ban toxic chemicals from food packaging
STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend and Sen. James A. Seveney prohibiting per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from food packaging made or sold in Rhode Island beginning in 2024. The bill now goes to the governor.
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.
“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 plenty of other excellent 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).
Said Senator Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton), “The more we learn about PFAS, the more it becomes clear that they are not something anyone wants in their body or environment. At the very minimum, they shouldn’t be intentionally added to packaging that has direct contact with the food people eat. While there’s growing public awareness about forever chemicals and the dangers they pose to us in all types of products, getting them out of food packaging is a good place to start.”
The legislation (2022-H 7438A, 2022-S 2044A) 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.
It also allows Rhode Island to participate in multistate efforts to implement the ban, such as reviews of regulatory applicability, certification of compliance, education and outreach.
Nine other states — Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New York, Maryland, California, Colorado, Washington and Minnesota — have laws banning PFAS in food packaging. Hawaii’s legislature has also passed a ban, currently awaiting signature.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has resisted calls by public health groups and environmentalists to regulate the PFAS. 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.