Maine Legislature Passes First-in-the-Nation Bill to Ban Toxic Chemicals from Food Packaging
The Safe Food Packaging Act will phase out PFAS and phthalates from food packaging
and allow the state to restrict additional harmful food packaging chemicals
AUGUSTA, Maine, June 4, 2019—Enacted unanimously on Tuesday by both the Maine House and Senate, a bill on the way today to Governor Janet Mills’ desk would establish a first-in-the-nation law banning two toxic industrial chemicals from food packaging. It will also clear the way for restricting additional harmful chemicals from food packaging.
A response to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) failure to sufficiently regulate health-harming chemicals in food packaging, LD 1433, the Safe Food Packaging Act, will protect Maine children and families by banning all phthalates (THAL-eights) and PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance) in food packaging, with the goal of reducing human exposure and environmental contamination.
PFAS are the headline-making group of chemicals that have contaminated drinking water in multiple states, and ruined a dairy farm in Arundel, Maine where unsafe levels of PFAS were repeatedly found in cows’ milk, drinking water, and hay fields.
If Governor Mills signs the bill, it will become Maine law that is nationally precedent setting in two ways: first, because it bans all phthalates, in addition to PFAS, and, second, because it establishes state authority to ban additional chemicals from food packaging. For most Americans, the food we eat is the major way we’re exposed to PFAS and phthalates.
“Once again, Maine can be a national leader for public health,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center. “Because of a broken federal chemical safety system, states can and must step up to protect the health of young children and families from toxic food packaging chemicals linked to cancer, infertility, and harm to brain development. The people of Maine can be proud of a Maine Legislature that has voted overwhelmingly to protect us from these toxic chemicals.”
Sponsored by Rep. Jessica Fay (D-Raymond) and co-sponsored by Sen. Robert Foley (R-York), LD 1433 amends Maine’s current Toxics in Packaging Law to phase out phthalates in printing inks, adhesives, and vinyl gloves by January 1, 2022. The bill would also presumptively phase out food packaging with PFAS, such as grease-resistant fast food wrappers, bakery bags, microwave popcorn, and molded fiber bowls and plates, if the state finds that safer alternatives are available, by January 1, 2022. The bill grants more time if the PFAS alternatives are not yet ready.
LD 1433 establishes state-based authority to 1) list up to ten other classes of food packaging chemicals of high concern, 2) require disclosure of the chemicals’ use in food packaging as well as an assessment of alternatives, and 3) require phase-out if safer alternatives are available.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection testified in favor of LD 1433 at a public hearing in front of the Environment and Natural Resources committee.
Sarah Woodbury, state advocacy director, Environmental Health Strategy Center, said: “I am grateful to Rep. Jessica Fay for her leadership on LD 1433 as well as to the bill’s lead Senate co-sponsor, Sen. Robert Foley, and to all the legislators who voted to support our environment and public health. This bill protects all of us, but it’s especially critical for the health of children, whose fragile, developing bodies make them so vulnerable to the harms of toxic chemicals.”
LD 1433 is the second state bill, after the Healthy Food Packaging Act of Washington State, to phase out all PFAS chemicals from food packaging following a determination that safer alternatives are available.
Nationally, PFAS contamination of drinking water is a growing concern. National and state news outlets have reported that toxic PFAS chemicals contaminated drinking water, milk, and farm fields at Stoneridge Farm in Arundel. This week, testing from the FDA’s own scientists revealed high levels of PFAS chemicals in meats, seafood, and a chocolate cake purchased from a U.S. supermarket.
Some PFAS persist in human bodies and the environment for years and even decades. They are so ubiquitous that over 97 percent of Americans have PFAS in their bloodstream—including newborn babies.
“This bill is an important step towards keeping more of these PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ out of our environment by phasing out their use over time without putting an undue burden on food packagers and manufacturers,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jessica Fay (D-Raymond).
PFAS are used to make nonstick coatings, microwave popcorn bags, and fast food wrappers, and they also are found in stain-resistant and waterproof coatings on carpeting, furniture, and clothing as well as in some firefighting foams and gear. Exposure to them increases the risk of some cancers, may lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant, and has been associated with liver problems and increased cholesterol levels.
Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that change the way hormones work. Pregnant women, babies, and toddlers are most at risk, and boys may suffer an increased risk of birth defects associated with testicular cancer, prostate cancer, or difficulty in fathering a child. Early life exposure to phthalates has also been linked to ADHD diagnoses and harm to brain development in children.
Phthalates easily migrate into food, yet these chemicals are often added to plastics, rubber, inks, sealants, and other materials used in food packaging and disposable food service gloves.
Passing legislation not only will ensure food on our shelves is in safer packaging, it also will better protect our environment, because toxic chemicals can enter the environment and drinking water supply when packaging is composted or landfilled.
“They say that as Maine goes, so goes the nation,” said Belliveau. “I look forward to other states following Maine’s lead with similar legislation to protect children and families by phasing out toxic industrial chemicals in food packaging.”
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The Environmental Health Strategy Center is a Maine-based nonprofit organization that works for a world where all people are healthy and thriving in a safe environment. Everyone deserves access to safe food and drinking water, and toxic-free, climate-friendly products. Visit www.ourhealthyfuture.org for more.