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N.H. Senator Maggie Hassan introduces bill to ban PFAS in food wrappers

A photo of people protesting PFAS chemicals in 2019. One sign reads: clean water, not corporate interests and profits.
Annie Ropeik
Protesters in New Hampshire and elsewhere have raised concerns about the presence of PFAS chemicals in drinking water for years. But those chemicals also show up in the packaging of our fast food, used to repel grease, oil, and water.

New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan introduced a bill earlier this month to ban PFAS chemicals in food wrappers and packaging.

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The harmful PFAS chemicals that have contaminated drinking water in the state also show up in the packaging of our fast food, used to repel grease, oil, and water.

Researchers have known for years that PFAS chemicals are an issue in fast-food packaging. A 2017 study found that fluorinated chemicals were prevalent in fast food packaging and could contribute significantly to PFAS exposure in our diets.

Some companies, like Whole Foods, have come out ahead of government regulations, saying they’re committed to removing PFAS from their packaging. And some states and countries have already banned PFAS from food packaging.

Hassan’s new legislation would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit food packaging containing “intentionally added PFAS.” The “Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act of 2021” would go into effect in 2024.

In an interview with NHPR, Hassan said efforts to address PFAS have focused on large-scale contamination of groundwater from manufacturing operations, but chemicals in food wrappers also contribute to the problem.

“Those products then go into our landfills and degrade over time and the chemicals contaminate the groundwater,” Hassan said.“So it's really important that we remove PFAS from as many products as we can.”

A previous “Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act” was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan in 2019, and sought to deem PFAS chemicals unsafe.

Representative Dingell and Republican Representative Don Young of Alaska introduced a House version of Hassan’s bill on Thursday. The 2021 bill takes a more targeted approach, focusing on food wrappers and packaging, and was drafted based on feedback from the 2019 bill, according to a representative from Senator Hassan’s office.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.

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