AUGUSTA — A bill that would make Maine one of the first states to prohibit a class of “forever chemicals” in food packaging is headed to Gov. Janet Mills’ desk.

Both the House and Senate gave final approval this week to legislation that would allow the Department of Environmental Protection to prohibit usage of PFAS as well as phthalates in food packaging sold in Maine. Some phthalates have been linked to cancer and may affect the endocrine and reproductive systems.

Beginning in January 2022, manufacturers or distributors would not be able to sell food packaging containing phthalates, which are a class of chemicals used as plastic softeners but also in soaps, shampoos and other personal care products.

The bill could also allow a ban on PFAS in food packaging within two years of the DEP finding that there are safer alternatives “readily available in sufficient quantity and at a comparable cost.” The earliest the ban on PFAS would begin is January 2022.

Formally known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS are commonly used in nonstick cookware, stain- or water-resistant carpets and fabrics, as well as grease-resistant paper and packaging. The substances been used for decades and, because of their chemical structure, linger in the environment for long periods of time.

But the chemicals are under increasing scrutiny in Maine and across the nation. And a recent Food and Drug Administration test found substantial levels of PFAS chemicals in grocery store meats, seafood and other foods.

The federal government already has banned two older variations – PFOS and PFOA – of these “forever chemicals” because of studies linking them to cancer and other health problems. But environmental and health groups argue the newer varieties of PFAS have yet to be proven safe over the long-term and should also be banned.

DEP officials testified in support of the bill allowing the department to move forward with phasing out PFAS in food packaging, so Mills is expected to sign the legislation. Mills also has created a task force to examine PFAS contamination in Maine and to make recommendations to state agencies and the Legislature.

Both bills passed unanimously in the House and Senate without debate. If enacted into law, the bill would add PFAS and phthalates to a list of other chemicals – including bisphenol-A – that are tightly regulated under Maine’s chemical safety or disclosure laws.

“Once again, Maine can be a national leader for public health,” Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said in a statement. “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.

“The people of Maine can be proud of a Maine Legislature that has voted overwhelmingly to protect us from these toxic chemicals.”

 

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