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Consumer Reports urges Congress to ban toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” in food packaging

Federal ban proposed as increasing number of states take action to protect the public

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Consumer Reports is calling on Congress to pass legislation introduced by Senators Maggie Hassan and Lisa Murkowski (S. 3169) and Representatives Debbie Dingell and Don Young that bans the use of toxic PFAS chemicals in food packaging. PFAS are commonly used to make food packaging grease resistant and have been linked to serious health problems.

“Chances are the takeout food you pick up at your local restaurant comes in a wrapper or container made with toxic PFAS chemicals,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports.  “PFAS can seep from packaging into the food we eat and contaminate the environment when it is tossed in the landfill and migrates into our air and water.  This bill will protect public health by banning PFAS in food packaging and encouraging manufacturers to use safer alternatives that are readily available.”

The effort to prohibit PFAS in food packaging at the federal level is gaining momentum as more and more states have enacted or considered such laws in recent years. Seven states have now passed legislation banning PFAS in food packaging: California, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington. Massachusetts is currently considering a similar measure.

Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of more than 4,700 chemicals that are very widespread and dangerous. In addition to making food packaging grease resistant, manufacturers also use PFAS to make non-stick cookware, and stain-resistant fabrics.

PFAS chemicals have three characteristics that make them especially dangerous to people. First, they are sometimes described as ‘forever chemicals” because they are extremely persistent, resistant to breaking down naturally in the environment and remaining in people’s bodies for years. Second, they are highly mobile, spreading quickly throughout our environment. Finally, they can be toxic at very low doses—even at parts per trillion levels, they have been associated with a variety of severe health effects, including cancer.

Some of the toxic effects associated with exposure to these chemicals include immunotoxicity, cancer, thyroid disease, birth defects, and decreased sperm quality. They reduce the immune response to childhood vaccines and may increase the risk of infectious disease. In addition, PFAS exposure has been directly linked to several underlying conditions that make people more vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19, including obesity, asthma, kidney disease, and high cholesterol.

Michael McCauley, michael.mccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537