Government

House Passes Bill to Ban Toxic Chemicals from Food Packaging

The legislation prohibits food packaging to which PFAS have been intentionally added to be sold or distributed in Rhode Island. (istock)

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

H7438A 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.

“As an organizer and as a mom, I am thrilled to see H7438 pass the House today. Rhode Island families are one step closer to knowing that the packaging their food comes in is free of toxic PFAS,” said Michelle Beaudin, Clean Water Action’s interim state director. “Now, we need the Rhode Island Senate to pass this bill too.”

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.

Local efforts have been underway for the past few years to regulate this harmful class of chemicals.

While they have 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 Environmental Protection Agency has resisted calls by public-health groups and environmentalists to regulate these substances, which are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals.” The Food and Drug Administration allows their use in food packaging, but U.S. manufacturers have voluntarily worked to reduce releases of some PFAS because of their toxic impacts 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,” Cortvriend said before the April 28 vote. “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.”

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where Sen. James Seveney, D-Portsmouth, is sponsoring companion legislation (S2044).

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