California Senate Seeks to Restrict Food Packaging and Cooking Chemicals

Published July 1, 2008

The California state Senate has passed and sent to the Assembly a bill to ban the use of food packaging containing perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

Senate Bill 1313 would ban persons and companies from manufacturing, selling, or distributing any food contact substance containing PFOS, PFOA, higher homologues, or precursors to these chemicals, in any concentration exceeding 10 parts per billion. The ban would go into effect January 1, 2010.

Food Contact Fears

Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), who introduced the bill in February, claimed in a statement that perflourinated chemicals in food packaging can leach into the food product when heated and break down into PFOA and PFOS, both of which can be toxic.

Perflourinates are a family of manmade chemicals used for decades to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. Common uses include nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and fabrics, food packaging, breathable waterproof clothing, and firefighting foam.

When introducing the bill, Corbett said, “Despite the fact that most consumers believe the packaging surrounding their food is safe, the reality is that certain food packaging contains toxic chemicals that can cause harm to children’s health and the environment. SB1313 will ban these toxic chemicals and protect Californians.”

Restrictions Already in Place

The bill, passed May 12, acknowledges the only U.S. manufacturer using PFOS stopped including it in consumer products in 2001. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a voluntary phase-out of certain perfluorochemicals, including PFOA, to go into effect in 2015.

PFOS and PFOA have been subject to health and safety studies and testing for years. PFOS was voluntarily phased out in the early 2000s by its principal worldwide manufacturer, and EPA took regulatory action under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to limit any future manufacture or importation of related chemicals specifically included in that phase-out.

The companies agreed to work toward eliminating emissions and the inclusion of these chemicals in consumer products by 2015. The companies reported 2000 baseline information in October 2006. In October 2007 they provided the first reports of progress toward meeting their commitments. Three companies reported better than 98 percent reductions in emissions of PFOA in the United States.

EPA reports there has also been considerable progress in the development of substitutes and alternatives.

Risk Assessments in Progress

EPA is still investigating the human health and environmental risks of PFOA. The risk assessment is still in draft form.

Despite EPA’s ongoing efforts to ascertain the health effects, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has twice received petitions to ban PFOA. A 2006 petition focused on alleged carcinogenicity, and a 2007 petition focused on alleged reproductive toxicity. Both petitions were denied by OEHHA.

OEHHA acknowledges PFOA’s widespread public exposure and persistence, and says the health risks remain inconclusive.

A lawsuit has been filed against the OEHHA regarding its two decisions. The case is still pending in the courts.

Tom Tanton ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.