Read the full article by Marina Schauffler (The Maine Monitor)

“Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) can find their way into foods through sludge or compost that contaminates soils, waters and crops, or they can migrate directly from packaging into a burger or burrito eaten on the run. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently approves more than 90 PFAS in food container materials ranging from paper cups, parchment paper and microwavable popcorn bags, to fast-food wrappers, pizza boxes and pet food bags, the Interstate Technology Regulatory Council reported in September 2021. 

Some packaging may not even appear coated, like a salad bowl or clamshell, but could be treated with PFAS to contain sauces or grease. The chemicals can transfer directly to food, particularly when those items are fatty, salty or acidic, researchers learned last year. 

Ingestion of food and water are two primary pathways for PFAS entering bodies. Once ingested, these chemicals remain for a long time, with a half life (the time required for the level to diminish by half) measured in years for many compounds. A growing body of research indicates that PFAS can disrupt hormonalimmune and reproductive systems, and can increase the risk of various cancers.

Earlier this year, Consumer Reports warned that many types of containers and wrappers associated with fast food and takeout contained PFAS, even when retailers claimed the compounds had been phased out. Research in 2019 found that higher PFAS levels in blood serum were strongly associated with consuming microwavable popcorn and, to a lesser degree, takeout and fast food. 

Consumer Reports joined a growing number of scientists calling for the government to regulate PFAS as a chemical class. ‘Trying to ban individual PFAS is an impossible game of whack-a-mole,’ said Brian Ronholm, CR’s food policy expert, in the study. ‘As soon as one is addressed, industry comes up with another.’ 

There are more than 12,000 known PFAS, with 4,700 in present or past commercial use. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently recommended that two of the most widely used PFAS be included in the Superfund program (governing hazardous substances), it has taken no steps to start regulating PFAS as a class.  

In 2019, Maine enacted a law to reduce toxic chemicals in packaging that requires the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop rules prohibiting PFAS and phthalates in food packaging. In respect to PFAS, the law requires DEP to find for each packaging type a safer alternative that’s ‘readily available in sufficient quantity and at a comparable cost” and “performs as well or better than PFAS.’ 

Maine modeled its legislation after Washington state, which has completed extensive research on PFAS-free alternatives to 10 food packaging types (such as bowls, plates, wrappers, sleeves, pizza boxes and trays). In May 2022, the Washington Department of Ecology published an update with alternatives that meet the law’s criteria for nine of the 10 food packaging types.” …