RI legislative action urged on ‘forever chemicals’ in food packaging

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With mounting evidence about the dangers of exposure to PFAS, renewed efforts are underway in Rhode Island to enforce PFAS regulations. State representatives have proposed, for the fourth time, a bill that would ban PFAS in food packaging, and another bill to set a state drinking water standard for the third time. Both were heard by the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on February 26th and are held for further study.

Studies have linked these ‘forever chemicals’ to cancers, thyroid disorders, low birth rates and immune system impairments, said Dr. Laurel Schaider, STEEP scientist and researcher at the Silent Spring Institute. PFAS easily get into food from packaging, she said, pointing to a study she conducted that found evidence of increased levels of the compounds in the bodies of people who eat more takeout food and microwave popcorn. “We need a class-based solution that phases out nonessential uses of PFAS,” Schaider said in support of the bills.

Dr. Angela Slitt, a toxicologist and STEEP scientist at the University of Rhode Island, said PFAS are so difficult for the body to metabolize because of the uniquely strong bonds between fluorine and carbon in the long-chain compounds, and that the chemicals are passed through the human body from mother to child, putting babies and infants at risk. “These are chemicals that cross the placenta,” she said. “They very easily get into breast milk. They easily get into cow’s milk.”

Many retailers and restaurants, such as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, and Chipotle, have already taken action to stop using food packaging with PFAS coatings. However, the Consumer Brands Association urged legislators to push back the deadline for compliance in the Rhode Island PFAS food packing bill from Jan. 1, 2022 to Dec. 31, 2022. These industry members claim that with the COVID pandemic, switching packaging would put a strain on the food supply chain. State regulators argued against a delay, saying that with more people opting for takeout over in-restaurant dining, the need for safer packaging is even greater now. “There is movement in the marketplace. So, it can be done,” said Newport Representative Lauren Carson.

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