East County News Service
April 7, 2017 (Sacramento) -- Legislation introduced this week would make California the first state to ban perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, from fast food wrappers and takeout containers.
The bill, AB 958 by Assembly Member Phil Ting of San Francisco, would prohibit the use of the entire class of PFCs in sandwich and pastry wrappers, french fry bags, pizza boxes, and other paper and paperboard used to serve food. It is co-sponsored by the Environmental Working Group and Clean Water Action.
“Dangerous chemicals should not be wrapped around our food, especially what we give to our kids,” said Ting. “Food convenience and food safety should not be competing values for those of us with lives on the go. It’s time for California to purge these toxic chemicals from our food so they cannot further damage our health and the environment.”
PFCs, a family of compounds that includes the notorious cancer-causing chemical formerly used to make Teflon, are widely used in food wrappers to stop the spread of grease. Scientific studies have also linked PFC exposure to thyroid disease, developmental issues, reproductive harm, weakened immune systems and low birth weight in children, among other health effects.
Last month, scientists from academic, government and nonprofit institutions, including EWG, published a peer-reviewed study in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, which found that 40 percent of fast food wrappers tested nationwide likely contained PFCs. Some contained traces of PFOA, the former Teflon chemical now banned for use in food contact materials. An accompanying EWG report said some fast food companies earlier promised to switch to PFC-free alternatives, but may not know whether their suppliers are still using PFC-coated papers.
“It’s been more than a decade since the dangers of PFCs became known, but too many fast food wrappers still contain these toxic chemicals,” said Susan Little, senior California government affairs advocate for EWG. “Exposure to some of these chemicals can cause harm at the very lowest doses, especially to developing children. Since a third of the nation’s children, across all ethnicities and income levels, eat fast food every day, Assembly Member Ting’s bill is urgently needed.”
“At Clean Water Action, we asked ourselves why any company would use products with toxic chemicals that can taint their food, and we couldn't come up with a justifiable answer,” said Andria Ventura, toxics program manager for Clean Water Action. “That's why we made the decision to stand with Assembly Member Ting and co-sponsor this important bill. People shouldn't be exposed to these chemicals, period.”
Although PFOA and some other PFCs have been taken off the market, chemical companies have replaced them with next-generation PFCs that are very similar in structure and have not been adequately tested for safety. DuPont has disclosed to the Environmental Protection Agency that one replacement chemical caused cancer in lab animals.
“Hot, greasy food increases the likelihood of fluorinated chemicals leaching out of the wrapper and into your food,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., an EWG senior scientist and a co-author of the peer-reviewed paper. “These chemicals are used to provide grease repellency to the paper, but they do not break down in the environment and may cause significant health impacts. Use of this worrisome class of chemicals should stop – better options are available as indicated in our test results. More than half the wrappers tested were free of fluorinated chemicals.”
AB 958 has been referred to the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee and is awaiting a hearing.
For consumers, exposure to PFCs in food wrappers can be reduced by eating fresh foods and preparing meals at home. Avoid the use of paper tableware and microwave popcorn. For more tips on how to keep these chemicals out of your body and your home, see EWG's Guide to Avoiding PFCs.