As States Act Against Toxic Chemicals in Products and Packaging, ExxonMobil and Chemical Industry Attempt End Run Around New Regulations

Environmental Health Strategy Center
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Chemical industry appears to bet on Trump EPA to circumvent state laws addressing toxic chemicals that harm human health

AUGUSTA, Maine, June 26, 2019—As momentum grew in Maine to ban toxic phthalates (THAL-eights) from food packaging, the multinational chemical industry, represented by ExxonMobil and the American Chemistry Council, approached the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on May 24 to evaluate the use of two phthalates and declare those chemicals safe—a decision that would bar states from regulating them.

Once EPA evaluates a use of a chemical, states aren’t allowed to make their own restrictions for the same uses. It appears that ExxonMobil is betting the Trump EPA—which has sought to dismantle chemical safety regulations and protect industry profits—will declare that phthalates don’t pose any health risks, despite strong science showing links between phthalates exposure in early life and ADHD diagnoses in children, a genital birth defect in baby boys, and infertility later in life.

This is an apparent attempt at an end run around state action on these chemicals, such as a Maine statute, signed into law on June 13, which would protect children and families from these health-harming chemicals. If EPA takes action, it would block health protective policies from being enacted in other states.

In 2019 alone, 14 states considered or are still considering a total of 32 bills that would restrict phthalates and other chemicals used in plastic.

"States are stepping up to protect their citizens from harmful toxic chemicals because communities are demanding it," said Sarah Doll, National Director at Safer States. "We applaud state lawmakers for leading on this issue and are alarmed that chemical industry actions threaten to undermine that leadership."

“The chemical industry seems to be trying to circumvent democracy,” said Patrick MacRoy, deputy director of the Maine-based Environmental Health Strategy Center. “Maine’s new law, and those of other states, was supported overwhelmingly by doctors, public health officials, regulators, environmentalists, and parents and families in our state. The Maine House and Senate voted unanimously to pass this bill, and it was just signed into law by our governor earlier this month. The blatant attempt to circumvent common-sense state policies such as Maine’s is a new low for the chemical industry.”

Background on new Maine statute:

Maine Governor Janet Mills signed into law first-in-the-nation legislation banning PFAS and phthalates from food packaging on June 13. The law also clears the way for Maine to restrict additional harmful chemicals from food packaging, which is also a national first. The law was passed unanimously by the Maine House and Senate.

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 substances) in food packaging, with the goal of reducing human exposure and environmental contamination.

The new Maine law 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 is 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.”

LD 1433 also 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.

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.

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.

“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.

Safer States is a network of diverse environmental health coalitions and organizations in states around the country that share a bold and urgent vision. We believe families, communities, and the environment should be protected from the devastating impacts of our society’s heavy use of chemicals. We believe that new state and national chemical policies will contribute to the formation of a cleaner, greener economy.