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Health advocates urge state to ban widely-used non-stick chemicals in food packaging

Bill under consideration in Olympia would ban use of non-stick chemicals used to line microwave popcorn bags and other food packaging materials. KOMO photo

A bill under consideration in Olympia would ban certain non-stick chemicals that are widely used in food packaging.

The chemicals are man-made compounds called PFAS chemicals.

PFAS chemical are used to coat paper and cardbaord so that food liquids and grease won't seep through the wrappings or containers.

Local consumer and health advocates say PFAS have been linked to cancer and other health risks. They say the same chemicals that make non-stick food packaging can stick to our food, and stay in our bodies.

When you eat popcorn that's popped in a typical microwave bag for example, local consumer and health advocates say there's a good chance you're also consuming toxic, non-stick chemicals used to keep the popping oils from leaking.

According to researchers at Toxic Free Future, a non-profit science and consumer advocacy group in Seattle, 100% of microwave popcorn bags recently tested likely contained perfluorinated non-stick coatings. Prefluorinated chemicals are part of the PFAS chemical group.

"They're the same industrial chemicals that are used in stain-proof coatings on your furniture and your carpeting or waterproof coatings on your jackets," said Toxic-Free Future spokesperson Ivy Sager-Rosenthal.

Perfluorinated chemicals are found in all sorts of food packaging, including muffin and sandwich wrappers, butter wrappers, french fry boxes and many take out food containers.

But health and safety advocates say the non-stick chemicals migrate from food packaging to the food- and pose a serious health risk- especially for children. And the chemical migration increases when introduced to heat.

Proponents of SB 6396 and it's companion bill HB 2658, say laboratory testing has found the chemicals damage the liver and kidneys, cause developmental delays, and reproductive problems.

They want state lawmakers to ban PFAS chemicals in food packaging in Washington.

But whether it's microwave popcorn or other non-stick food packaging materials, representatives of the chemical industry call the proposed ban too far-reaching and the concern unnecessary.

Jessica Bowman is a spokesperson for the FluoroCouncil, which represents the fluorochemical industry worldwide. She testified at a January 29 public hearing in Olympia.

"We respectfully oppose this bill for the following reasons: The bill would restrict all PFAS unnecessarily and without full consideration of their actual use and safety," said Bowman.

The American Chemistry Council argues on its website that the use of the PFAS in food packaging "is highly and rigorously regulated."

If Senate Bill 6396 passes- the state Department of Ecology would have to first determine whether there are safer alternatives to PFAS chemicals in food packaging and present it's findings.

If that assessment is accepted, a statewide ban would take affect in 2021.

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