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October 8, 2021

Advocates urge Mass. to ban food packaging chemicals

Courtesy | JLL Capital Markets The Center at Hudson is anchored by a Stop & Shop.

The range of substances that are slowly coming to be more widely known as "forever chemicals" are often used in the manufacturing of pizza boxes, candy wrappers, bakery bags and other food storage containers.

And even though per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, did not come into existence until around the 1940s, today, "virtually everyone on the planet has PFAS in their blood," Clean Water Action Senior Policy Advocate Laura Spark told lawmakers on Thursday.

"As we continue to make and use PFAS, they continue to build up in our bodies and in the bodies of wildlife," Spark said at a Public Health Committee hearing.

Environmental and public health advocates urged the panel to advance legislation (H 2348, S 1494) that would ban the use of certain chemicals classified as PFAS in food packaging. Manufacturers opposed the bill as drafted, and recommended a later compliance deadline should the bill move forward.

Experts have known for about two decades that many forms of paper in food packaging have been treated with PFAS, which can leach out of bags and containers and into food itself, according to Clint Richmond of the Sierra Club.

Warning that use of the substances is "everywhere," Richmond said plastic packaging containing PFAS is often disposed of into trash or landfills, which "concentrates" the chemicals' potency.

"We can't have PFAS jeopardizing the health of consumers, creating toxic litter, contaminating recycling, polluting the air and contaminating drinking water and composting that could be used in agriculture," he said.

The bills, filed by Rep. Jack Lewis in the House and Sen. Michael Moore in the Senate, would both prohibit the manufacture, sale or use of food packaging with "any amount" of PFAS added intentionally. The ban would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

Those chemicals, which scientists have found take a long time to break down and can lead to negative health outcomes in humans, are drawing more scrutiny at the federal and state government levels.

Some kinds of PFAS known as long chains have already been phased out by many manufacturers and face substantial regulation, according to Shawn Swearingen, director for the Alliance for Telomer Chemistry Stewardship at the American Chemistry Council.

"Not all PFAS is the same," he said.

Swearingen, who said his membership represents roughly 90 percent of food packaging manufacturers, voiced opposition to the bills as drafted but not to the idea of state regulation more broadly.

He asked the Public Health Committee to amend the bills to push the effective date to Dec. 31, 2023 and allow businesses to continue selling and distributing products containing PFAS that are already "in commerce" in Massachusetts.

That later deadline, Swearingen said, would align with an agreement the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and manufacturers reached last summer to phase out and discontinue sales of PFAS products in fiber-based food packaging by Jan. 1, 2024.

"As reflected in its announcement of this agreement, the FDA concluded this phase-out period is needed to avoid unnecessary food supply chain and market disruptions, as we're still seeing in logistics and supply chain issues today," Swearingen said.

Several other states, including neighbors Connecticut, New York, Vermont and Maine, have already banned the use of PFAS in food packaging, according to the Sierra Club's Richmond.

In the fiscal 2021 state budget, the Legislature convened an interagency task force to study contamination from the long-lasting, man-made chemicals. That group has already explored the role of the chemicals in firefighting foams and faces a Dec. 31 deadline to submit recommendations to the Legislature for how to rein in contamination.

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