Duty to disclose: California’s attorney general gives PFAS producers forever chemicals reminder
24 Oct 2023 — California’s attorney general Rob Bonta has issued an enforcement advisory letter to food packaging and cookware manufacturers and distributors, notifying them of their legal duty to disclose PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in their products.
Lawmakers in California, US, passed a bill (A.B. 1200), which came into force this year, banning PFAS substances from paper, paperboard and plant-based food packaging and utensils and paper straws. New York State also banned PFAS in food packaging materials at the same time.
Effective next January, the Californian law will also require companies to clearly disclose online the chemicals, including PFAS, used on cookware and bakeware handles and coatings.
The law also bans cookware companies from falsely claiming their products are PFAS-free.
The so-called “forever chemicals” are used in hundreds of products, from food wrappers and textile coatings to cosmetics and dental floss to guitar strings and firefighting foam.
Tide turns on PFAS
At a recent press event, Bonta emphasized the health hazards linked to PFAS exposure. “Like so many Californians, I am greatly concerned about PFAS exposure. These chemicals are toxic and all around us,” he said.
California has been applauded for prioritizing human and planetary health over profit through its trailblazing PFAS regulation.“As the people’s attorney, I’ve been turning that concern into concrete action by holding big PFAS manufacturers like 3M and DuPont accountable and supporting federal efforts to better protect Americans’ drinking water supply from PFAS.”
Since December 2022, 3M has disclosed a list of products that are sold in the US and contain intentionally added PFAS, a company spokesperson tells us. The list includes consumer goods, such as non-stick cookware, food packaging and cosmetics.
3M claims that its products, including those containing PFAS, are safe and effective for their intended uses in everyday life. However, the company has also committed to exit all PFAS manufacturing and discontinue the use of PFAS across its product portfolio by the end of 2025.
“This is a moment that demands the kind of innovation 3M is known for,” says 3M chairman and CEO Mike Roman in a company statement. “While PFAS can be safely made and used, we also see an opportunity to lead in a rapidly evolving external regulatory and business landscape.”
Currently, 3M’s annual net sales of manufactured PFAS are approximately US$1.3 billion, which is approximately 4% of the company’s annual revenue.
Earlier this year, the US-based manufacturing giant agreed to a payout of up to US$10.3 billion to provide public funding for water supplies contaminated with PFAS. The conglomerate agreed to the settlement following numerous lawsuits but denied any liability and pledged to defend itself against continuing litigation.Burger King is one of several fast food giant’s to commit to phasing out forever chemicals in its food contact materials.
Health over profit
Drinking water is not the only concern related to PFAS contamination. This year, scientists from the Environmental Working Group in Washington, US, found that eating one freshwater fish is equal to consuming one month of drinking water with PFOS — a PFAS chemical.
In 2020, a report warned that nearly half of all take-out food packaging tested across major US food chains contained potentially toxic chemicals. The Mind the Store campaign and Toxic-Free Future nonprofit combined forces to investigate the presence of PFAS in McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s and health-minded food chains Cava, Freshii and Sweetgreen.
The investigation showed that all six food chains sampled had one or more food packaging items that “likely contained” toxic PFAS.
Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Burger King have all since pledged to phase out PFAS from their food packaging. In 2022, McDonald’s and Burger King faced class-action lawsuits in the US over “forever chemicals” in their packaging.
“PFAS chemicals have been a hidden threat to our health and environment for far too long,” says assembly member Phil Ting, who authored the A.B. 1200 legislation. “I fought for the passage of A.B. 1200 and other related legislation to reduce our exposure as much as possible and raise awareness.
“I applaud Attorney General Bonta for putting companies on notice that we are putting Californians before profits.”
In the EU, the plastic industry recently warned that the current proposal to restrict PFAS in the European Economic Area does not differentiate between the different substances that need to be regulated individually.
By Joshua Poole
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